RCSL Special Needs Squad Teaches Life Lessons
By P.M. Black
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Dolphins special needs swim team has brought smiles while making waves in their first year with the Rocket City Swim League.
“I’m sort of surprised we haven’t been doing something like this all along,” said Matthew Brown, who is the head coach of both the Dolphins and Greenwyche pool swim team.
Consisting of 15 special needs team members, the Dolphins are competing alongside the Greenwyche team at all home and away dual meets during the regular season.
Brown says the outpouring of compassion from the coaching staff is helping the children grow and have fun. He feels that anyone taking time to even witness one practice realizes these children are really the ones teaching life lessons. The love ripples to everyone around them, not just to those involved in making this happen.
“The Dolphins teach us a lot about what swimming is really all about,” said Brown. “I think we get caught up in the competitive portion of swimming, the times, trying to beat a certain person, or getting that qualifying time. These swimmers don’t really care about that. They want to see themselves improve. They want to get better, but at the end of the day, they just want to be out here and swim. They enjoy everything they can do today that they couldn’t do yesterday. That’s really how it should be done.”
Brown is going into his junior year at Auburn University, majoring in biochemistry. He is a Huntsville High School graduate and swam four years for the Crimson Panthers. He competed 10 seasons in the RCSL. This is his second year as head coach at Greenwyche. He also assisted the Gators for three additional seasons.
“One of the girls on our team is a special needs swimmer,” said Karen Ferguson, who is a team representative to the RCSL board for Greenwyche. “I talked to her mom in the early spring about what we could do to foster a special needs team here at Greenwyche. It went from there. Lady Smith, our other team rep, and I decided we would try and make it league-wide and include everyone.”
Ferguson put together a proposal and submitted it to the RCSL council at the first meeting of the year. The program idea was then passed unanimously by the board of directors prior to the start of the season.
“Our coaches are also volunteering their time on Tuesday afternoons for an hour for one practice each week,” said Ferguson. “Our talented group of coaches and many of our Greenwyche swimmers help out, too. We have a couple of Dolphin swimmers who need a little help getting in the water and our coaches are in the water with them at the meets as well.”
The Dolphins swim the exhibition freestyle event at the start of dual meets held every Wednesday during the regular season.
“Last week, we had our first away meet and it was at Byrd Spring,” Ferguson said. “They really had the place fixed up for us and were such gracious hosts. They had posters and were so friendly to the swimmers. I walked in there and saw it all and I was in tears. We got all the posters and we are giving them to the kids. It was truly heartwarming. We also give them all ribbons to award them for their swims.”
Ferguson is a 1984 graduate of Huntsville High School where she lettered in swimming all four years. She competed in the RCSL for Randolph. She has a nursing degree from Birmingham Southern, a master’s degree in nursing from the University of South Alabama and a PHD in education from Capella University. Ferguson is a teacher in the school of nursing at Martin Methodist University.
The RCSL pools are currently competing in the regular season consisting of five dual meets per team. The season culminates with all 18 teams, along with the special needs squad, gathering for the 50th anniversary of the City Meet at the Brahan Spring Park Natatorium, July 11-12. More than 1,400 athletes are expected to compete in the largest swim meet held yearly in North Alabama.
“I talked with Karen (Ferguson) this past Saturday and she mentioned doing something in the City Meet next year, but I thought we should include it this year,” said RCSL President Justin Olander. “Chris Chance, our City Meet director, agreed and he is making it happen.”
This is Olander’s initial year as board president. He is an engineer for the Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center. Olander is also with the National Guard as a medical officer in the 164th airlift wing in Memphis, Tenn.
“My wife Brandy and I have a 5 year old, Anabel, and a 2 year old, Warren, so I feel like we’ll be involved with the league for a long time and I wanted to give something back,” Olander said. “I think the RCSL is important to all the children in the county. It not only gives them a chance to swim in meets, it offers an opportunity to form friendships that will last a lifetime.”
And with the new team addition this season, it’s already been a rewarding and humbling experience for all those who take the time to help out with the Dolphins.
“These are children of God,” said Brown, “just like everybody is and we have to keep that in mind when we do anything like this in that they have something to offer, just like everyone else.”