Mike Levine, left, chief of police for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Special Olympics athlete Brandon Nemire, lead a group on Saturday, (April 9, 2011) during the Central Riverside County Law Enforcement Torch Run. The relay began at the Morongo Reservation and ended at the Valley-Wide Recreation & Park District’s Aquatic Center at Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet. The Central Riverside County Law Enforcement Torch Run raises money for Special Olympics. (Photo courtesy of the City of Beaumont)

Morongo Tribe Hosts 4th Annual Torch Run for Special Olympics

Gale Courey Toensing

Event raises funds for Special Olympics

CABAZON – The Morongo Band of Mission Indians hosted the kick-off ceremony for the local Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise funds for the Special Olympics and then some tribal members and elders laced up their running shoes and joined in the event.

The Morongo citizens, local athletes and more than 100 peace officers participated in the 4th Annual Central Riverside County Law Enforcement Torch Run on Saturday, April 9. The 34-mile run benefitting the Special Olympics Southern California – Inland Empire Region began with a torch lighting ceremony of the Flame of Hope at the Morongo Tribal Administrative Center in Banning. Local Special Olympics athletes and dozens of peace officers were treated to a breakfast provided by Morongo.

“The Morongo Band of Mission Indians is proud to support the remarkable athletes of the Special Olympics whose spirit and drive to compete is nothing short of awe-inspiring,” Tribal Council Vice-Chairman Maurice Lyons said. “We’re delighted to be working with peace officers from across the region in support of the Special Olympics and the programs it operates to strengthen our communities.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run was launched in 1981 by six officers from the Wichita, Kansas Police Department. The goal was to raise funds and increase awareness of the Special Olympics. The Torch Run was quickly adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), which is now recognized as the founding law enforcement organization of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.  Torch Runs take place around the world and involve a broad cross-section of the law enforcement community. In 2009, more than 85,000 law enforcement officers raised more than $34 million to support the Special Olympics.

Several tribal elders joined Morongo youth and law enforcement officers in the first leg of the Saturday’s run. The 34-mile route stretched from the Morongo Tribal Administrative Center in Banning to Beaumont, San Jacinto and Hemet, ending at Diamond Valley Lake where Morongo hosted a barbecue picnic with a DJ. Saturday’s run raised funds to support training and expenses for Special Olympics athletes in local, regional, state and international competitions, and to help fund community-based sport programs for developmentally disabled individuals.

Officers and volunteers who took part in Saturday’s run hailed from the Morongo Reservation Patrol, Banning Police Department, Beaumont Police Department, Hemet Police Department, San Jacinto Police Department, California Highway Patrol and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The Central Riverside County Torch Run is one of more than 100 torch runs taking place in over 35 countries, all leading up to 2011 Special Olympics in Greece in June.

The Torch Run program encompasses a variety of fundraising vehicles in addition to the Torch Run itself. Torch Run fundraising includes T-shirt and merchandise sales, donations or pledges for runners in the Torch Run, corporate donations, special events such as Polar Plunges, golf tournaments or other events that have local appeal.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians has a 32,000-acre reservation located at the foot of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains, overlooking the vistas of the Banning Pass. The Morongo Reservation was one of nine small reservations set aside by President Grant by executive order in 1865. In 1983, the path of Morongo’s future changed when tribal members started a modest bingo hall. Since then, the bingo hall has evolved into one of the oldest and most successful Indian casino destinations in California. The Morongo Casino Resort & Spa is one of the largest tribal gaming facilities in the nation.

The nation has since diversified into a number of non-gaming businesses, and is now the largest private sector employer in the Banning-Beaumont region and a major contributor to the Coachella Valley economy. The tribe employs more than 3,000 people.

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