Although she may not have looked it, Satanna Chapman said she was filled with excitement Friday morning as she packed last items into a bag near the front lawn of Lompoc High School.
Satanna, who was surrounded by teammates and coaches, wiped away tears as she prepared to say goodbye to her mother. She and nine other athletes from Lompoc High had gathered at the campus for a rousing send-off before loading into vans to embark on a trip to Seattle, Washington, for this year’s Special Olympics USA Games.
“This is her first time away from home and she’s gone through all the emotions: crying and scared,” Jackey Chapman, Satanna’s mom, said. “She’s a little scared, but she’ll do OK.”
The athletes are all members of Lompoc High’s Project Unify Club, which brings together students enrolled in both special and general education classes for sports contests. The Lompoc club was chosen to represent all of Southern California — a region that spans from San Diego to San Luis Obispo — in unified basketball at the national Special Olympics Games, scheduled to kick off with opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium.
Satanna, who held tight to her new cellphone she received to stay in touch with her family while in Washington, didn’t hesitate when asked what she was most looking forward to during the trip.
“Winning the big game,” she said, laughing.
She wasn’t the only one excited to get going Friday morning.
Of the 10 student-athletes going on the trip, five are enrolled in special education and five in general education. They were joined by three coaches, including club director Marjie Ledgerwood, who said she was “way excited” upon learning last year that Lompoc High had been chosen for the trip by the Special Olympics of Southern California.
“We have some athletes who have been putting in the time for multiple years to develop a Unified Basketball team and offer that experience for all students at our school,” she said. “To be honored and awarded that bid (to the USA Games) was pretty fantastic.”
That sentiment was shared by Lompoc High Principal Paul Bommersbach.
“This is just a great experience for Lompoc kids from this community,” he said.
The athletes, who will live in dorms during the trip, will play in a round-robin style tournament in a bracket with three other teams. Some of their opponents will be from as far away as Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Their activities in Seattle won’t be limited to the court, however.
The group had planned to attend Sunday’s opening ceremonies, as well as the event’s closing ceremonies, scheduled for Friday, July 6. In between, they will tour the athletes’ village at the Games and will also travel to Safeco Field to watch a Major League Baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners.
“They’ll be super busy,” said Ledgerwood, who was honored this year with Santa Barbara County’s first “Heart of Education” award. “There won’t be any downtime.”
Before leaving town Friday, the athletes got a look at some of the gear they were set to take with them on the trip. That swag included two pairs of shoes — regular tennis shoes for walking, plus new sneakers for games — and Special Olympics-branded shirts and windbreakers.
The Lompoc contingent, which included support staff from the Special Olympics of Northern Santa Barbara County, then packed into city of Lompoc vans and was driven by city recreation employees to Los Angeles. The crew planned to spend the night in L.A. before boarding a Seattle-bound flight Saturday morning at LAX. Their return is planned for Saturday, July 7.
Walker Grossi, a rising junior at Lompoc High, has participated in the Project Unify Club for the last two years and said he planned to continue for the next two.
“What makes me want to keep going with it is the experience I get with helping kids through basketball, which is my favorite sport, and it helps them learn and helps me learn,” he said.
Grossi noted that he had fun during the club’s trip to L.A. back in February for NBA All-Star festivities, but he said he was even more pumped for the trip to Seattle.
“Overall, I’m 10 out of 10 excited,” he said.
As the vans pulled away from the Lompoc High parking lot, some of the parents and grandparents of the athletes remained and continued waving goodbye.
Debbie Wilson, whose granddaughter Ashley Schroff was among the departing athletes, acknowledged that a small part of her was sad.
“I just wish I could go,” she said. “That’s the only disappointment I have, that I’m unable to go, but I know (Ashley) will have a wonderful time, so that’s the main thing.”
For more on the Special Olympics USA Games, visit www.specialolympicsusagames.org.