DE Turf marks one-year anniversary, hosts Special Olympics clinic

Logan Potter with Howard T. Ennis in Georgetown Jumps over an obstacle during a Special Olympics sports training session at DE Turf near Frederica on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

FREDERICA — Approximately 100 Special Olympics athletes from three local schools gathered at the DE Turf Sports Complex Thursday morning for a sports training clinic.

The athletes, representing Kent County Community School in Dover, the John S. Charlton Program School in Camden and the Howard T. Ennis School in Georgetown, showcased their skills by competing in an assortment of athletic drills during the 90-minute clinic.

Hosted by DE Turf with the help of M&T Bank, the clinic commemorated the central Delaware sports complex’s one-year anniversary.

“It’s a celebration of Special Olympics, but it’s also a celebration of the efforts M&T Bank has put into this facility and it’s a celebration of this facility,” said city of Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen, who addressed the crowd of athletes and volunteers during a brief ceremony prior to the clinic.

“I think it’s a really terrific event today. I think it’s terrific that you can take 100 kids and make it a happy day for them. A lot of them have a lot of challenges, but this helps them get through those challenges and move forward into the mainstream of the community.”

Upon arriving at the complex shortly after 10 a.m., the athletes were greeted by applause and high-fives from 50 volunteers sporting green M&T Bank t-shirts.

“It’s great to be able to recognize both partners at the same time when they’re such strong supporters of ours,” Special Olympics Delaware executive director Ann Grunert said.

M&T Bank volunteer Michelle Bergold tosses the ball to Kappen Salsman during Special Olympics sports training session at DE Turf near Frederica on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I think when you have the opportunity to have a partner like M&T or DE Turf, who are premiere partners in our state, step forward and say that individuals with special needs matter, that causes the community to look twice and in turn that’s what starts to build those bridges of acceptance and understanding. Everybody deserves that moment in the sun and today couldn’t be a better day to be able to showcase our athletes’ skills and talents.”

During the clinic, athletes rotated through nine drill stations and two water break stations, with activities such as baseball, soccer, tennis, football and bocce ball included in the five-minute rotations.

“It’s awesome, they’ve been pumped for this for a couple weeks now,” said Steven White, a program coordinator in his 13th year at the Charlton Program School. “They practice all year in soccer and basketball, but now they get to get out and do some different things.”

“This is amazing, I’ve never been here before but it’s well-organized and just the fact that all the kids are constantly moving and having a good time is awesome.” added Megan Andrews, a para professional at Charlton Program School for six years.

“When you have the opportunity to walk out on to one of the premiere sports facilities to showcase your skills and talents and have everyone out here watching, that resonates to the community that individuals with special needs matter and that they have a rightful place in our community to be respected and celebrated,” said Ms. Grunert, who has been with Special Olympics Delaware for over 30 years.

Jensen Dixon with the Charlton Program in Camden hits a ball during Special Olympics sports training session at DE Turf near Frederica on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Since opening its doors in 2017, DE Turf has had over 117,000 visitors, including almost 90,000 out-of-state visitors.

“We’re hitting the growth phase of the facility, going into our second year. We’ve hosted about 40 events this year and since we’ve opened we’ve had over 117,000 visitors that’s resulted in about 17,000 hotel rooms across all three counties,” said DE Turf executive director Chris Giacomucci.

“What I think that says is that sports tourism does work, especially when you have a facility like this. So, I think we’re accomplishing our economic impact goals and we’re looking forward to continuing to expand on events. It’s rewarding and it’s exciting to see.”

M&T Bank issued bonds in the sum of $20.7 million for the construction and development of DE Turf, which includes 12 synthetic turf fields, five lighted fields, a championship stadium that seats 700 people, free public Wi-Fi and on-site parking.

“It’s a great venue and it’s the perfect example of great partnerships working together with a great outcome,” said M&T Bank regional president Nick Lambrow. “You take a look at the Greater Kent Committee, what they’ve started and what they’ve finished, it’s an unbelievable project not only for the youth and the sports in Delaware but for a much wider area.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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