Hidden away behind a winding path through the construction at the Overland Park Racquet Club, four Special Olympians spent the last two days preparing to represent the United States at the World Games this July and August.
The practices were arranged by Sid Kanter, a Leawood native and national tennis team coach, and funded by a grant from the Missouri Valley Tennis Association. The four athletes in attendance were Lee’s Summit native Bobby Williams;, Casey Hostetler from Haysville, Kan.; Michael Bottom from Hutchinson, Kan.; and Omaha’s Melissa Giersch.
“It’s been really fun and exciting,” Williams said. “(I’m looking forward to) meeting friends and having fun.”
The group, which originally met during a week of training last September in Indianapolis, trained for three hours Saturday and Sunday with Kanter and a few other coaches. Former BV North and Michigan State player Clark Richardson, along with fellow Spartan Whitney Wilson, volunteered for the cause.
“They are here for a reason, and they have been very productive,” Kanter said after practice on Sunday. “They want to do well and they want to improve, but if they don’t win, that’s OK, too. They are really neat people and I’m glad I’m part of it.”
Kanter and his wife, Nan, have been involved in Special Olympics the last 26 years and have a son named Michael, who has competed in the World Games in bowling. Kanter, who has been the head coach of the Blue Valley Special Olympics tennis team, formerly taught business at community colleges around the Kansas City area and was a professional at Homestead Country Club.
“We wanted our son to have something to do other than going to school and sitting at home watching TV, and sports is a great outlet,” Kanter said. “Nan helped it get it started, I was a natural to help her on tennis and I helped her on bowling too. Now we’ve got 13 sports and 200 athletes in the Blue Valley area.”
Although he is the coach, Kanter had no involvement with selecting the team after local nominations. He said the 16 Olympians and one unified player were selected at the state level and helped raise money for the two-week trip they will make in late July. The games start July 25 and run through Aug. 2.
Overall, the World Games will include athletes from 170 countries and 25 sports. The United States has 17 of the 350 allotted spots in tennis. Independence’s Allen Tobin and Arthur Murphy will be competing with the softball team.