Caring for the Community: Dick Phelan

February 22, 2011 5:09:51 AM PST
On any given Tuesday during basketball season, you will find Dick Phelan leading the Gateway Gators on the court.

He is a dedicated volunteer coach for the Gateway Special Recreation Association for children and adults with developmental disabilities. And it all started with a little nudge from a neighbor who was also a volunteer coach.

"I said I'd be happy to help out. I was expecting maybe the next season, and he came up to me two days later and said you're on for tomorrow," Phelan said.

And that was seven years ago. Today, the father of four and grandfather of 10 says he gets tremendous joy out of coaching just as he did when he coached his own kids in Little League.

"The enthusiasm of our players is remarkable," Phelan said. "They are so excited to be here. It's a social outlet for them. It's exercise for them. It's competition."

"He's a mentor to me because he tells me what I'm doing wrong, what to improve on, so I appreciate that," said Tony Zaagman, Gateway Gators.

"He shows us where to go on the basketball court, shows us what to do who to guard," said Dave Firch, Gateway Gators.

"I just guarded him. He can really hit his shots, too," said Steve Warzecha, Gateway Gators.

Gateway offers players with developmental disabilities a chance to compete like any other athlete. In fact, the team came in second at the Special Olympics' state championship tournaments last year. Those who see his volunteer work every day say what makes Coach Dick unique is he has no personal connections to someone with disabilities.

"He's somebody who really recognizes the values of volunteerism and contributing to his community, and that's really what motivates him," said Kathy Carmody, Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities.

"He's not here because he feels bad for people. He's out here because he loves to coach. This is a great team. These guys love working with Dick."

"When I see how they work with their developmental disabilities and how they go through that on a day-to-day basis, when you see them playing basketball, just what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis with their disabilities, they're the heroes, certainly not me," said Phelan.

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