Special-needs participants excel in tournament

Athletes in Henry County's Special Olympics program brought home their share of trophies, following a regional tennis tournament.

The Special Pops Tournament was recently held in Norcross, Ga., at the Racquet Club of the South. Team members played in singles matches, as well as a Unified Doubles portion, in which special-needs participants joined forces with a volunteer partner, according to Terry Nash, therapeutic recreation coordinator for the Henry County Parks and Recreation Department.

"The partner's goal is to make the game more meaningful for the Special Olympic athlete by keeping the ball in play and helping each athlete make consistent shots, or attempts at the ball," said Nash.

Tournament participants, and partners from Henry, along with Nash, were Bonnie Hunt, Bekah Kendig, Jonathan Mink, Cathy Funte, Chris Lewis, Babbie Spain, Billy Mueller, Charles Minnix, Tasha Wall, Katie Dodgen, Mike Maddox, Darrell McEver, Cara Towe, Kim Funte, Marnie Hornsby, Paige Copeland, Brittney Hagelthorn, Jim Hagelthorn, Nikki Rowley, Melissa Dodgen, Melinda Mueller, Jennifer Maddox, Connie Dodgen and Eric Kendig.

Twelve individuals in the program brought home gold, silver and bronze medals, said Bonnie Hunt, a coach for the team.

"We had 12 athletes and 12 unified partners, plus me," said Hunt. "There were 120 athletes from six different states."

The Henry squad, in singles competition, won one gold medal, three silver medals. Local doubles tandems in the tournament won two gold medals, four silver medals and two bronze medals.

Hunt began working with the tennis team two years ago. She said the team has been a staple in the county's Special Olympics program, for 10 years.

"I encourage them just to have fun, because that's what it's all about," said Hunt. "We want it to be fun for them, because if it's not fun, it defeats the whole purpose. But, it does teach them how to win and how to lose."

Cara Towe received the Sportsmanship Award during the tournament.

"She's really bubbly, and has a great personality," said Hunt.

"We appreciate the hard work of Bonnie [Hunt], who has grown the program from three athletes to 15 over the last couple of years," said Nash.