Between shifts at the Burroughs-Molette cafeteria and Winn Dixie, 23-year-old John LaNeve makes time for tennis.
He’s been playing for just less than a year, but his coach Bob Crimian said his serve is already “wicked.” He’ll be putting that serve on display at the Special Olympics’ State Summer Games at Emory University Friday through Sunday.
“I just wanted to give (tennis) a try,” LaNeve said. “I played a little when I was younger for fun, and I liked the running.”
LaNeve is one of several athletes from Special Olympics Coastal Georgia traveling to Atlanta for the state games. The Coastal Georgia division of the nationwide program serves intellectually disabled people 8-years-old and older in Glynn and McIntosh counties. According to the Special Olympics’ website more than 2,800 athletes are expected to participate in a number of sports, including Aquatics, soccer, long distance running and walking, flag football, volleyball, tennis, gymnastics, and table tennis. The summer state games is one of three seasonal state events in the Special Olympics’ calendar, including fall and indoor winter games.
Coastal Georgia Program Coordinator Rhonda Diggs said 37 athletes and seven coaches are traveling from Glynn and McIntosh counties for this year’s games, one of their biggest turnouts for the growing local program. Coastal Georgia’s athletes will compete in flag football, tennis, tennis skills and table tennis.
In addition to promoting healthy lifestyles for athletes involved in the state games, Special Olympics values include improved self esteem, communications skills and acceptance. Each athlete participating in the games will come home with some kind of award to recognize their involvement in the event.
“The athletes love their medals, that’s a highlight,” Diggs said.
Crimian has been volunteering to mentor intellectually disable students and adults in various capacities. He started by getting involved in his middle school special education program and coached soccer in high school. After taking time off in college and graduate school, Crimian moved to Brunswick as an adult in 2014 and has been involved with Coastal Georgia Special Olympics for the past year.
Depending on the season, Crimian could be coaching any number of different sports. He’s coached athletes in everything from track, to basketball, to bocce to golf.
“The biggest thing I get is how they inspire me to be confident and brave,” Crimian said. “It’s a lot to go out there and compete against your peers in sports. It inspires me, and I hope I inspire them.”
The Coastal Georgia division of Special Olympics relies mostly on the support of donations and its partnership with United Way of Coastal Georgia. More information is available on the program’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SpecialOlympicsOfGoastalGeorgia and one can contact offices at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LaNeve and Crimian rallied back and fourth at Seldan Park Wednesday, two days before the state games. In the final days before the event, LaNeve said he’s honing his backhand.
“It’s not easy,” LaNeve said. “The competition (is exciting).”