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Special needs team gives El Paso athletes a sense of belonging

El Paso, Texas (KVIA) — Sports often unite people, but for one local team, playing sports allows them to not feel alone in this world. 

915 Stars consist of about 20 athletes ranging in age from 17 to 46 years old, who all have varying levels of special needs. 

But when they’re on the pitch, court or at the range, they’re not different like they’ve so often been labeled in life. 

“They are all the same, they all can relate to each other, they can all meet each other, they can all talk and all be quirky and it doesn’t matter, they all just have fun,” Nina Fierro the Mom of one of the athlete’s said. 

A lot of the athlete’s have known each other for roughly 15 years because they played on another team together. But in the Spring of 2020, that sense of belonging to something was abruptly taken away as Covid-19 forced the shutdown of their former program. 

Mayra Rosales saw the struggle first hand in her daughter Dominique who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability at age 3. 

“It was very difficult because I was noticing her anxiety,” Rosales said. “We needed to come up with something to give these athletes, we call them kids, but athletes something to do outside of their home. So it was a little nerve racking at the beginning but we knew we had to do something for them and this is all just for them.”

In February of this year a few of the parents from the old group formed 915 Stars.

“Once we got back together you could just see it, the light in their eyes,” Ronald Jimenez the Dad of Jesse said.  

It’s a light Ronald Jimenez never knew if he’d see in his son Jesse’s eyes. Before Jesse was born the Jimenez’s were told he would have down syndrome.

“We knew he was a little fighter, he was going to be active and that we were going to give him all the chance as parents to let him enjoy a full life,” Jimenez said. “Sports makes these kids come together. It teaches them so much, the camaraderie, being in a group, the socialization they have, the friendships they have, they learn to treat each other equal.” 

They’re lessons people with special needs learn when they play sports in high school - but once they age out of the system at 22, things become more challenging. 

“A lot of them stay at home or they go to groups for a certain amount of hours but then they don’t have anything else to do,” Rosales said. 

For Rosales, putting Dominique in 915 Stars is one of the best things she’s ever done. 

“She used to be so secluded to herself, not do a lot, not speak, not socialize and now we’ve given her the opportunity to grow with other athletes,” Rosales said. “She’s developed so much and I am grateful for it.”

For a lot of the athlete’s one of the biggest areas of growth comes in the form of socialization. 

“When I first came here I was just happy to be here and I just want to stay here,” Rey Enriquez a 915 Stars athlete said. “I’ve grown close to these people that I call my teammates.”

When Rey was four years old his parents started noticing he wasn’t developing on time. They later learned he was on the autism spectrum, has attention deficit disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.  

They put him in sports with Parks and Rec because they knew the benefits that could come from him playing sports and being on a team, but they found it wasn’t a conducive environment for him. 

“We would have sometimes where he was doing tee ball and he would just throw the bat and nearly accidentally hit a coach,” Fierro said. “It was a lot harder because we didn’t have anything like 915 where it’s all special needs. He felt more like an outsider and that everybody didn’t want to have a connection with him which is what we were missing.” 

Rey’s parents told ABC-7 he’s blossomed so much since joining 915 Stars. 

“He would have never done this but slowly he’s socializing so much more and so much better,” Fierro said. “It’s amazing, I’m so thankful.” 

In their first year as a program, 915 Stars took two soccer teams to San Antonio for the Special Olympics where they both won gold in their respective brackets.

The medals the players have are both shiny and cool, but the biggest win for the parents and athlete’s will always be that they found each other. 

“I really love to see his smile,” Jimenez said. “When he makes a shot and just being out there on the floor in any sport when he scores a goal, catches a touchdown, just seeing the light in his eyes as a parent, it’s everything.” 

You don’t get to choose your family but for 915 Stars, this family is all they could ever ask for. 

Throughout the year they play basketball, volleyball, softball, flag football, golf, track and soccer. 

If you are interested in joining 915 Stars you can contact Ronald Jimenez at +1 915 204 2231.

915 Stars isn't the only special needs sports team in the Borderland. Other teams and organizations include The Miracle League, Special Olympics El Paso, St. Pius Special Needs Group, St. Luke's Catholic Church.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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Rachel Phillips

Rachel Phillips is the weekend sports anchor and reporter.


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