Thanks to the vision and tenacity of DSC Board Member Daryl Harper, Special Olympics Washington (SOWA) has tennis teams for the first time in 20 years. We spoke with Daryl to get an idea how this team came to fruition and what motivated him to get teams formed.
How did you get involved with the Down Syndrome Community of Puget Sound? My daughter, Maeson, is 16 and years ago we attended Megarama Day and went to a couple of talent show and other events. We’ve always enjoyed them. When a position became available on the Board of Directors, I decided to join. My focus is on policy development and advocating for people with Down syndrome.
When did you start coaching tennis? I picked up tennis about 3 years ago. My daughter really enjoyed playing with me. We played once a week. I searched the internet for a tennis program for people with Ds and found the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy (www.jensen-schmidt.com). I called them and found out how to bring their program to Seattle. We worked together to host a 2-Day tennis event for the last two years.
How did you bring tennis back to Special Olympics Washington? I thought tennis would be a great addition for SOWA. After discussions over the last couple of years, a unified team was formed this year and we use the annual Tennis Academy as a feeder program for our SOWA Tennis teams.
Tell us about your team. The Enumclaw team had 13 total players. 8 have special needs and 5 are typically developing. Their ages range from 11 years old to mid 30’s. SOWA Tennis is based on skill level not age or gender. Unified doubles compete at the level of the athlete. We have two teams at this time: one based in Enumclaw and one based in Seattle. The Enumclaw team practices twice a week in June and July. This year we got in sixteen practices and one match. Enumclaw High School hosted the event. We had parents and an ex-college player assist with coaching. In the future, we’ll have High school and college players buddied up with the players as well.
This year, your team represented SOWA at the Special Olympics North America Tennis Championship. How did that go? The event was held on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. 120 total players from around the country were in attendance. SOWA had a team of 3 players. We were the only Western US state represented. There were all different skill levels represented as well. Some athletes were just learning how to stroke the ball while others were able to play complete tennis matches with serving, umpires and everything . It was a week-long event with a couple of days for practice and then 3 days of competition. Our athletes brought home 3 medals!
How can people get involved with SOWA Tennis? First off, they can attend the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy on May 5th and 6th at the Boeing Employees Tennis Club (www.betconline.net). There is a fee involved and it includes a tennis racquet and gear. Anybody with special needs can sign up – no experience is required. The academy is broken into skills (agility, balancing, strokes and volleys). If you are in Western Washington and want to join SOWA Tennis, email me: [email protected].
If you want to check out SOWA Tennis in action, Special Olympics USA Games will be held July 1-6, 2018 at UW (https://www.specialolympicsusagames.org/tennis-schedule). SOWA Tennis is sending 2 tennis delegates, Maeson and a male player from the Seattle Team. Mark your calendars and come out to support these athletes!