Although the Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games wrapped up earlier this month, Sussex County SODE athletes are still going strong. Athletes from Sussex Riptide continue to be active in their sports, by attending practices.
Marie McIntosh, one of the coaches for the area athletes of the Sussex Riptide, said that the athletes are fortunate to be able to use the Bayside Tennis Club’s facilities in the summer, when Sea Colony — where they practice in the winter — is too busy.
“We’ve been at Bayside every summer for the last, I would say, 10 years,” said McIntosh, who is an equity member at Bayside.
The athletes first started using Bayside’s facilities after McIntosh simply asked for court time.
“They, from the very beginning, allowed us to play tennis here in the summers.”
The club’s vice-president, Sandi Roberts, said supporting the athletes has always been an easy decision.
“We look at it as a way to give back to the community. It’s something we can do to reach out,” she said.
Roberts also has a personal perspective, as she is a local special-education teacher.
“The kids I work with at Selbyville Middle School are not necessarily the kids that excel in the classroom, but a lot of times my kids are the ones who excel on the football field or on the basketball court,” she explained.
“The feeling a kid gets when they get a test back from the teacher with an ‘A’ on it is exactly the same way a kid feels when they score a touchdown, or if they’re on a tennis court and they hit the overhead shot that wins the game and wins the match. It gives them a sense of accomplishment.
“For kids with special needs, they don’t always get that sense of accomplishment in the classroom. So we can provide that for them on a tennis court.”
The athletes practice tennis every Tuesday evening, with courts being reserved for the practice. Some Bayside members even help coach during the practices.
“There are so many athletes — we need the help. Mary Headman is there almost every Tuesday night, which is really great. [Club President] Al Preziosi — he also helped us with coaching the athletes,” she said, adding, “And they don’t have any problem with any of the coaches that we bring in, because we bring some of the volunteer coaches that help us over from Sea Colony.”
While the Sussex Riptide has approximately 300 athletes in all, approximately 30 live in the local area.
“We’re growing,” said McIntosh of the number of athletes who play tennis. “We started out with maybe five athletes, and over the years now, we’re up to about 15.”
McIntosh said the athletes do not have to compete in the sport in order to participate in practices.
“We open up events to all of our athletes. The biggest thing they get out of this is socialization. They get to socialize with their friends that are athletes, and that’s the biggest, biggest benefit,” she said. “We’ve gotten a couple of new athletes this year, and one of them, she’s going to be a tennis player!”
Jay Clark, who serves on the club’s board of directors, said supporting the local athletes is “just a matter of being a good member of the community.”
“We are a small club. We have only a little over 80 memberships. We’re club that’s been around for over 30 years.”
Clark said that supporting SODE athletes isn’t its only community outreach, as they are offering their facilities for veterans and their families participating in Operation SEAs the Day.
Roberts said the club is open to helping other area nonprofits, although they would need to receive a request.
The club has is open to membership inquiries as well, said Clark.
“The club has four hard courts — two that are standard hard courts and two that are on a somewhat cushioned hard-court surface. They play more like a clay court… They’re a little easier on the knees and ankles,” he said. “Two of the four have just been refinished and painted. The other two have just been power-washed.”
The facilities also boast a pavilion that can, inside and out, seat around 50 people. They also hold social events in the summer months, which include food, drinks and the company of others.
McIntosh said she’s thankful for the club not only donating the use of its facilities free of charge but also its continued financial support.
“They give a contribution to Special Olympics every year, in monetary contribution, which is very nice. Without question, they do it every single year. They are very, very supportive,” she said. “Some of their members give us private contributions. We just bought a trike with the money that one of the members gave us.
“Dennis Roberts gives us a contribution every single year from his business. That kind of support is just unbelievable. We get a lot of support. Bayside is a small club, so for them to give us that kind of support is really incredible.”
McIntosh said it’s wonderful to live in a community that is so supportive of Special Olympics and its athletes.
“It’s truly been enveloped by the community — not only by Bayside, but Sea Colony, Bear Trap. We’ve been very fortunate that these places support us. It’s great.”
For more information about Special Olympics Delaware, visit www.sode.org. For more information about Bayside Tennis Club or to inquire about membership, visit baysidetennis.sharepoint.com.