Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Tony Carney

#50for50: Volume 26
▪️ Tony Carney
▪️ 63 years old
▪️ Chester County

“I lived across the street from Elwyn Institute where I used their facilities to work out, sometimes without their knowledge. After a while I started getting kicked out by security. I played basketball in high school and college [at the University of the Sciences] and I had a chance to play professionally overseas in Ireland. When I came home I was really lost. I was really emotionally lost when I wasn’t playing anymore. I went over and talked to the Athletics Director at Elwyn and asked if I could do something as a volunteer. And that’s when they got me an employee credential, so I wasn’t getting kicked out by security anymore. I did bowling with the adults from the Institute and had a wonderful time. I started doing classroom stuff from 1982-85, but when I changed jobs to the pharmaceutical industry, a lot of that went by the wayside because that was a 24/7, 365 job. … We started our team from scratch in 2003. Patrick, my first-born son, was getting to be old enough that he was involved. When he was 2 or 3 we started getting these diagnoses. They put him in developmental medicine at AI duPont and the reports coming back weren’t real good. They were saying he’s not going to accomplish very much. He’s 30 now. So once he was old enough to participate, Patrick’s mom said to me, ‘If I do the paperwork, will you coach the team?’ And I said, ‘If you do the paperwork, I’ll do anything.’ … That first year, we went to the Downingtown Tournament and got clobbered. We lost every game. Then in 2004 I said, ‘I just want to win one game.’ We ended up going undefeated in our region and went to Penn State and won gold in our division. … We’ve had two college graduates, we have an Eagle Scout. Our players have done remarkable things. I still have two of my original players, but we’ve had the better part of 100 kids come through. It’s not like a high school or college team. They don’t have to graduate if they don’t want to. Our core players, most of them have been around for a decade or more. They’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them. I never wanted to be a basketball coach before I got to coach them. … We practice on Sunday mornings. It’s not uncommon to have them back here in my basement, playing video games, howling and laughing and joking with each other. You can’t make people do that, they either do it naturally or they don’t. It was very difficult for me to tell them it was all cancelled this year. I’ll see them in the supermarket, they’re talking about Penn State. That’s their goal. They think about it all the time. I’ve come out of games after losses and they’re in the hallway in tears and I think, ‘God, I’ve created a monster.’ They’re very resilient. … We don’t keep stats. The only stat I know is that 13 of 14 years we’ve been to states. We’ve medaled every time we’ve gone. To see the looks in their eyes when they have that feeling of accomplishment, when they’ve won tournaments — I said, ‘Never forget this feeling. This will help you your whole life. You know that you can do it.’ … The last 18 months, I’ve had a bout with cancer. People ask me, ‘What should we tell the players?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell them.’ That and the season being cut off at the knees this year has made me reflect on a lot of the time I’ve had with the group. It’s been a blessing to me. I hope I’ve been able to help them along. It warms my heart. When I look back on all the things I’ve done in basketball, this might be the best thing I’ve ever done or ever been associated with.”

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Special Olympics Pennsylvania

The mission of Special Olympics Pennsylvania is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

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