The 11 members of the Tri-Valley Allstars rose before dawn Saturday, dressed in their softball uniforms and gathered at Grant High School in Van Nuys by 5:30 a.m., surrounded by sleeping bags and flashlights and eager to leave for a statewide Special Olympics meet in San Diego.
But instead of piling into the 15-passenger van their coach had rented and packed with equipment and snacks, the team learned that the vehicle had been stolen during the night and that their trip was canceled.
“It almost killed me to tell them,” said William Tebbs, a city building inspector who volunteers his time each Saturday morning to coach the developmentally disabled players, ranging in age from 15 to 43.
“Some cried,” he said. “They’re all so different, on different plateaus. Some of them hung their heads. Some of them didn’t realize exactly what it meant. They kept asking: ‘Where’s the bus?’ Some of them hugged me.
“I was just devastated,” Tebbs said.
The van was recovered by police Saturday night in San Fernando--far too late for the players to compete. It was not known if the equipment was still inside.
The team, whose members come from all over the San Fernando Valley, was to have spent the weekend at a San Diego naval base, meeting sailors and attending Special Olympics parties between tournament games. Last year, they brought home the gold medal for their division, and they had high hopes of doing the same this year.
“The team’s gone undefeated all summer,” said William Holliday of Arleta, whose 32-year-old son, William, usually plays catcher.
“They’ve just played their hearts out.”
Alice Ward of Woodland Hills said her 30-year-old son, Blythe, was among those players who at first could not believe that the trip was canceled.
“He thought they were just going some other way at first . . . and I had to tell him no, that there’s no equipment, that you can’t play without equipment. So he understood that and he’s pretty logical.”
She said her son, an outfielder, had been so excited he was up at 4 a.m., dressed and made himself breakfast. “He’s been talking about it for at least two or three weeks. They all have.”
Tebbs said he rented the van Friday and--in an effort to set out early the next morning--loaded it up with the Allstars’ complete set of aluminum bats, softballs, gloves and safety helmets, as well as sodas and cookies for the ride.
Between 8 and 9 p.m., he locked and parked the van in the driveway of his Bradley Avenue condominium in Sylmar because it was too large to fit inside the garage.
It was still dark when Tebbs got up Saturday and carried an ice chest outside amid last-minute preparations. The van was gone.
Tebbs said he did not bother to try to order a substitute van because he realized that it was unlikely they would arrive in San Diego in time for the 8:30 a.m. opening ceremonies. His car rental company did not open until 7 a.m. Saturday.
“What’s this city coming to?” sighed Tebbs.