A tradition that started more than 40 years ago is back up and running.

After being put on pause during the pandemic, the 42nd Annual Kiwanis Special Games featured more than 600 children of varying ability levels at West Valley College as they competed in a series of athletic challenges, May 13.

“It was the first time since 2019,” said Nancy Pearson, past-president of the Los Gatos Kiwanis Club. “It was such a great day.”

The youth came from all over, largely as part of Santa Clara County’s adaptive physical education program, she explained.

“They get a ribbon at the end of each game they play,” she said. “They get to be champions.”

Since, in some ways, children with disabilities suffered more than others during the coronavirus lockdowns, it was great to see the athletes having fun at the Games, noted Pearson.

“They were so thrilled to be there,” she said. “It’s all inclusive.”

There was a balloon arch set up to honor the memory of Nathanael Yruegas, a boy who passed away recently and loved participating in the event.

Senator Dave Cortese presented a certificate to Yruegas’ mother as part of the Opening Ceremonies.

Pearson says she recently learned that Sue Carr Katra, one of the event founders, currently lives in Los Gatos.

During a December 2020 event for seniors put on by service clubs, Pearson began talking to a Rotarian.

“Have you ever heard of Special Games?” he asked her, noting, “My wife was one of the original teachers who helped found it with Kiwanis.”

VOLUNTEERS – Rusty Rinehart, Angele Price, Barbara Koplos, Kasey Rice, Liz Lawler, Terry Martin, Sally Ingram, Steve Leonardis and Gaby Clark getting ready for the Frisbee Throw at the Kiwanis Special Games on May 13. (submitted)

She later met Carr Katra, who ended up attending the local Kiwanis chapter’s Zoom meetings.

That’s how Pearson learned how near and dear to the long-time teacher’s heart the initiative always was.

“It started with just 20-30 students,” Pearson said, explaining Pete Bergsman of Los Altos had the genius idea for the Games. “Then it expanded over the years.”

It’s not hard to see why.

West Valley College President Stephanie Kashima spoke during Opening Ceremonies. (submitted)

The volunteers began arriving around 6am. At least 10 students from Los Gatos High School’s Key Club came to facilitate the Special Games.

“They are super critical to the whole event,” Pearson said. “They act as leaders.”

The day kicked-off with the Opening Ceremonies around 9:30am, at which West Valley College President Stephanie Kashima spoke. Dignitaries were introduced, and the kids paraded around the track as their names were read out over the loudspeaker.

“We couldn’t do it without West Valley,” Pearson noted. “And we definitely couldn’t do it without the County.”

After the parade, the kids broke up into groups and the activities started.

Los Gatos Kiwanis Club members ran the frisbee throw, while Campbell’s Kiwanis Club was in charge of the Nerf archery range.

There were around 20 games in total, including the 50-yard dash and the 100-yard dash. Events were tailored so children in wheelchairs could take part.

After noon, it was time for the picnic. And the hardworking volunteers were treated to a pizza party.

Peason commended the about 300 volunteers who made the event a reality.

“We had 12 people just in our frisbee throw,” she said, adding 60 students from Sunnyvale Middle School also pitched in. “Isn’t that amazing? They just want to help.”

The games are structured so there are three athletes facing-off at a time. This fosters a spirit of competitiveness while also allowing the children to experience the rush of glory.

“Everyone’s a winner,” Pearson said, adding sometimes there’s more interest in the third-place than the first-place position.

Moments of bliss that warm the hearts of volunteers are standard at the Special Games.

Pearson can’t help but remember the excitement of one particular boy.

“He would throw the frisbee, but every time he threw it, he would almost hit one of the Kiwanians in our club,” she said. “I was cheering behind him. He just kept turning around and smiling.

Balloon archway – A balloon archway was set up at the entrance memorialized student Nathaneal Yruegas. (submitted)
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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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