By Jeb Bing
Special Olympics' Ken Mano just keeps on givingUploaded: Apr 4, 2011
Ken Mano just keeps on giving. Fresh off the gymnasium floor of Amador Valley High School where he coordinated the eighth annual Special Olympics basketball tournament, he's already seeking volunteers to help with the group's track and volleyball meet on May 7.
At 72, with awards and widespread recognition for at least three decades of leading volunteer efforts for youth in the Tri-Valley, at his church and for the disabled, Mano can count in the thousands the number of those in need he's been able to help.
Last month, despite heavy rains, his Special Olympics brought 83 teams, 850 athletes and the largest number of volunteers ever to a weekend of basketball at Amador and to the gyms at Harvest Park and Pleasanton Middle School as well.
Those of us who were there to watch these players, some as young as 8 and a few even in their 60s, shared Mano's enthusiasm and pride over the success of these games. We cheered as a player would make a basket, then race back down the court gleaming with pride to the loud applause over his or her accomplishment. Mano gleams, too, as those with special needs gain experience at competitive athletics at their purist and most inspiring level.
The Pleasanton games, a part of Special Olympics now conducted around the country after the first games were held in 1968 with funds provided by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, are a product of the Amador High Athletic Boosters Club.
Mano is a business analyst with Kaiser Permanente's IT department in Pleasanton. His wife Carolyn works in the children's book section at the Pleasanton Library. With their six children -- Natalie, Gary, Janelle, Brian, Melissa and Trent -- attending Amador, they became active in the Boosters. Carolyn works the snack bar at Boosters events (and at the Special Olympics track meet), and Ken was the Boosters' treasurer for eight years.
Looking for ways for the Boosters to extend its community reach beyond the Amador campus, parents with special needs children suggested the Special Olympics. Mano talked the school district into providing school facilities without charge for a one-time event. That was eight years ago, and the two 2011 programs now attract hundreds of participants from as far as Half Moon Bay and the Napa Valley.
Mano said the goal is to give all persons with developmental disabilities a chance to become useful and productive, and accepted and respected in their communities.
Parents and guardians tell him that their child or home-cared adult had been reclusive and without many friends. Coming to the Special Olympics and being in contact with others of similar ages and disabilities spurred them to become more proactive back at home, where they often found similar programs on a smaller but still beneficial scale. Their disabilities range from mental handicaps to autism to Down syndrome to adults who have suffered brain injuries or damaging diseases. Mano works with them all on a personal basis and also tutors volunteers on how to help meet each individual's needs, lessons that go a long way toward encouraging the volunteers to reach out on their own in special needs programs in their community.
Volunteers are impressed, even amazed by Mano's volunteer work ethic. My own daughter, Kerry Nally, who worked at the Special Olympics events at both Amador and Pleasanton Middle School, said she would read emails about the schedule that Mano would send at all hours of the day, even at 3 and 4 a.m. The man never sleeps, she said, pointing out that his day job at Kaiser was just as demanding.
But then Mano has been at this for quite a while. He served as a missionary in Japan with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has also been heavily involved in Boy Scouts for the past 35 years. At Amador Boosters, he helped raise more than $1 million for the high school with eScrip, leading other schools to start the program. He was also instrumental in saving Emeryville High School's athletic program and persuaded his church on Paseo Santa Cruz to start a similar special needs program on a weekly basis that is open to all.
He wants high school students and adults who want to help with the Special Olympics East Bay regional track meet and volleyball tournament to be held May 7 at Amador Valley High to register by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.