Twenty-eight years ago, when Amy Remfrey was a 14-year old softball player at Trevor Browne High School in Phoenix, she became involved in a PE program where student-athletes taught special needs students different sports.
The Arizona team, made up of 14 players ranging in age from ages 21 to 40 will compete against 11 other teams from nine countries, as well as USA teams from Southern California and Missouri.
The Arizona team is an all-star squad made up of five Valley athletes, seven from Tucson and two from Flagstaff. They will be part of a Special Olympics Games that will include 500 U.S. athletes, and 5,000 competitors representing 170 countries.
Remfrey, a veteran Special Olympics coach, held tryouts to select the team last July, with the help of some Phoenix Union High School District baseball coaches.
She works for the District as the Division Manager for Information Technology. The team has been practicing and fundraising for the last year.
The team attended a training camp in October with other Special Olympics athletes, and participated in a torch relay through Phoenix earlier this month.
The tournament begins with a round robin to determine skill level. Remfrey already knows that her team will qualify for the top division.
Her concern is that the 200-foot fence at the UCLA softball diamond will throw off her lineup of power hitters, who are used to 300-foot plus dimensions.
“The rules are a little different than what we are used to. We can only count the first two over the fence as home runs, and after that, they only count for a single,” Remfrey said.
To prepare for the Olympics and the short fences, the Arizona squad will scrimmage a team made up of
Remfrey has been involved in Special Olympics since her high school experience teaching the game.
She noticed as those little leaguers aged out, she wanted to keep those individuals playing and she began coaching Special Olympics teams.
“I love the game of softball and each and every one of my athletes and am close with the families as well. Special Olympics has impacted my life in a positive way. It gives me a great feeling of accomplishment when we play as a team and compete in tournaments. To watch the athletes grow is a great feeling,” she said.
It has become a family affair as well. Remfrey says 12 members of her family will travel to Los Angeles to show their support for her and the team.
“I have so much fun and it makes my heart smile. My family loves being part of Special Olympics as well. My 18 year old daughter Haley attends the tournaments when she can and keeps the score book for me.”
The Arizona Softball roster includes Valley athletes Casey Bagley, Phoenix; Marino Cuen, Peoria; Daulton Diguardi, Buckeye; Vanessa Robles, Phoenix; Joshua Rogers, Peoria. From Tucson: Alex Escobar; Michael Guevara; Esteban Navarro, Javier Parra, Ruben Parra, Jose Trevino and Jimmy Quihuis. From Flagstaff: Abel Johnson and Jeremy Lewis. Assistant Coaches: Henry Perales, Casa Grande and Paula Considine, Peoria.
In addition to the softball team, Arizona has one athlete that will be competing in equestrian and another assistant coach that will be leading the USA kayaking team at the Summer Games.