High schoolers carry torch for Special Olympics

They came from all schools to cheer on their athletes.

“Look at that. This represents 15 years of KIF football championships, and they’re all running for one cause,” said Jerry Jona, one of the Special Olympics management team.

Football teams from Kaua‘i and Waimea high schools joined law enforcement officers and Lifetime Stand members from the Kaua‘i Community Correctional Center.

A warm feeling permeated Vidinha Stadium when the colorful mass of runners filled in the central field under the leadership of Kaua‘i Police Department acting chief Clay Arinaga who carried the “Torch of Hope” to open the annual event.

Arinaga said the law enforcement run started in 1968 to help these athletes. In 1987, the run was named after Honolulu Police Department officer Troy Barboza who was killed in action.

Arinaga said Barboza was a staunch supporter of the Special Olympics program and served as a coach for its athletes as well.

“We carry the flame for him and keep the fire burning for him,” Arinaga said.

Bats from the Red Raider baseball team paused as the group entered the stadium and heads turned to watch the combined group pass by the color guard provided by the Kapa‘a High School Junior ROTC cadets.

“We have another engagement after this,” said Col. Jerald Knudsen, the leader for the Junior ROTC. “From here, we present colors at the Parent/Child Fair at Kukui Grove.”

Catherine Paleka arranged to have her choral members render the national and state anthems like they did a week ago at the WalkAmerica event, and Gary Heu, representing Kaua‘i Mayor Bryan Baptiste, had no trouble finding the excitement despite the many activities taking place around Vidinha Stadium.

Special Olympic athletes also played key roles in opening the games. Michael Boro from the ARC of Kaua‘i accepted the “Torch of Hope” from Arinaga and ignited the cauldron to the applause of athletes, their supporters and volunteers.

Konia Pa was one of the Special Olympics athletes who joined the football players and law enforcement runners in the Troy Barboza Memorial Run which ran the torch from long-time supporter First Hawaiian Bank to the stadium. But that did not tire her as she provided the Athletes’ Oath on behalf of all competing athletes.

“That’s my daughter,” Konia’s mom said quietly, her pride beaming in the morning sun.

Peggy Lake, representing the field of volunteers from the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa, answered with the Officials’ Oath before Arinaga proclaimed the games open.

Jocelyn Barriga, the Special Olympics Kaua‘i Area coordinator, said all of the athletes who compete in the field games are eligible for the state competition coming up on O‘ahu.

“We have more than 60 athletes competing here today in 20 track and field events in different age categories,” Barriga said. “That’s a lot of athletes, but they are all eligible for the state competition. And new this year is weight lifting.”

That was the cue for Kylie Moniz, a national gold medal winner in weight-lifting, to break into a big smile.

Moniz said one of the other Hawai‘i delegates to the national competition was sitting in the stands as well.

In reading a mayoral proclamation, Heu said, “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.”

The Kaua‘i Area Special Olympics program operates and benefits through the various fund-raising programs it hosts throughout the year.

First Hawaiian Bank is a state sponsor of the Troy Barboza Memorial Run and the Special Olympics program. Mike Murakoshi, who welcomed both the runners and athletes, said, “This is a worthwhile event and First Hawaiian Bank is proud to be a part of this. We hope to be here for a long time to come.”

As the football athletes mingled with the Special Olympics athletes, one Kaua‘i player bearing the No. 50 on his red jersey couldn’t help but say, “This is a really good cause.”

“That is really heart-warming,” said Trent Shimabukuro, one of the Kaua‘i football coaches. “You never get to see things like that every day.”

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