Special Olympics tennis offers benefits for players and volunteers

Saturday, August 9, 2008 | 9:12 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The State Special Olympics Championships this weekend in Columbia gave athletes and volunteers an opportunity to grow and learn.

Booneville's Robert Eichelberger, 27, competed Friday night in the tennis competition.

Eichelberger, who has participated in Special Olympics for the past 11 1/2 years, said he enjoys the chance to meet new friends.

In 2006, Eichelberger was chosen to compete in the National Special Olympics in Ames, Iowa. He was chosen based on how he worked with his peers and his attendance at events. He also had to place first in an event at the Special Olympics Missouri State Championships.

"I was very surprised to be selected," Eichelberger said.

Eichelberger placed first in singles and doubles tennis in his division at nationals.

Peggy Llewellyn, the sports director for tennis, has coached Eichelberger and seen him and his family grow through the sport. At first, his family was hesitant to let him go off on his own, and he was also hesitant to learn how to play without them.

Now Eichelberger arrives at an event and quickly tells his parents goodbye so he can meet new people and enjoy the competition.

"It's great to see families grow," Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn also said that the games teach participants how to develop responsibility, freedom and how to be respectful.

"The Special Olympics teach more than just sports," Llewellyn said.

Llewellyn first got involved in the Special Olympics with her college sorority more than 30 years ago, and she has continued to help and coach. She is also a special education teacher at Booneville High School where she coaches tennis.

She said working for Special Olympics has helped her with her own life.

"It has inspired me to work through my difficulties," Llewellyn said.



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