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2 Sports Legends Make a Special Visit

July 21, 1998|SUE FOX

Manny Mota is used to being surrounded by children clamoring for his autograph. But on Monday, the former Dodger star and current coach spent the morning with dozens of severely disabled children, most of whom did not know who, exactly, he was--other than a big friendly man in a blue and white baseball uniform.

It was all they needed to know. Mota cuddled the children on his lap and played a modified game of catch with some, gently tossing a baseball from about a yard away to each child who wanted to play.

The kids kept him on his toes, throwing back grounders, flies and even an occasional shot that slipped past Mota's muscular legs.

"You don't have this kind of opportunity all the time," Mota said. "Now I feel like I'm part of this family here and I know what they are going through. It gets you deep in your heart."

It was Mota's first time visiting the students at Lokrantz Special Education Center in Reseda, one of 18 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that serves physically handicapped or developmentally delayed children.

But for another visiting sports legend--former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden--the children at Lokrantz are a familiar crowd. His great-grandson Cameron, 5, is a student there.

Cameron was born with brain damage, said his mother, Cathleen Trapani. When he came to Lokrantz about two years ago, Cameron was in a wheelchair and was just learning to sit up after having heart surgery, explained his teacher, Lori Adams. Now his mother leaves the wheelchair at home most days, and Cameron walks with the aid of a walker or with someone holding his hand.

"To us, that's tremendous progress," Wooden said. "We're just very grateful for what we have."

The boy was clearly delighted to see Wooden, who pulled the child onto his lap and ruffled his blond hair. "Hi, Cami Boy," he said softly as Cameron smiled and flapped his arms.

The teachers guided groups of children, many of them in wheelchairs, over to Wooden to say hello. He shook their hands and gave them hugs. For a moment, the coach who led UCLA to 10 NCAA championships was just an ordinary man visiting his great-grandson's school.

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