Father and son tennis team go for gold at Special Olympics

Michael Capone Jr. and his 16-year-old son Michael Capone III will play together June 3-5 on the unified tennis team at the Special Olympics at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.

By:Lea Kahn Staff Writer
Many fathers wish they could play alongside of their sons in sporting events.
   Nassau Drive resident Michael Capone Jr. and his son, Michael Capone III, are among the lucky ones, because they play tennis together.
   This weekend, the father and son will play together on the unified tennis team at the Special Olympics — where the 16-year-old is one of the Special Olympics athletes — at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.
   The Special Olympics summer games are scheduled for June 3-5. All events are free and open to the public.
   Unified sports teams pair a Special Olympics athlete with a partner who does not have an intellectual disability, according to the Special Olympics Web site. The goal is to help the Special Olympics athlete learn a new sport and hone his or her skills, as well as to offering a chance to socialize with peers.
   In unified tennis, the two athletes — the Special Olympics athlete and his or her partner — play against another team that also is made up of a Special Olympics athlete and a partner. It is similar to doubles in tennis, Mr. Capone said.
   "Unified tennis is more fun than competitive," said the 55-year-old Mr. Capone. "I like it because I get to play with my son. I taught him how to play. I get compliments about how well he plays. I taught him too well — he’s starting to beat me."
   All of the Special Olympics athletes have in common an intellectual disability. Michael was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, which sometimes makes it difficult for him to communicate, said his mother, 46-year-old Lucy Capone.
   "Socialization is difficult," Ms. Capone said. "(But) in sports, you are not relying on communication. We play (sports) in the driveway. When children come by, they would see us and they would play."
   The Capones, who are both athletic, began to teach their son to play sports as a way of filling up the hours. They began with paddle ball, but Michael soon mastered that sport. The family progressed to badminton and racquetball, working their way up to tennis.
   "It wasn’t a plan," Mr. Capone said. "It’s just good for us."
   Taking part in the unified tennis team allows him to "get out there, relax and bond" with his son, Mr. Capone said. He said he tries to teach his son how to play the game.
   "Unified tennis is a low-level competitive team," Mr. Capone said. "I let him play his game and I help to keep the game going. I help him with his shots. A ‘typical’ player (who does not have an intellectual disability) tries to help the team."
   This year marks the 35th year of Special Olympics New Jersey, according to the non-profit group. Special Olympics New Jersey, started by Bessie Cutter Perlman in 1970, provides sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
   Ms. Perlman was following the example of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who began the movement in the 1960s by running a day camp in her own backyard for people with intellectual disabilities.
   The first Special Olympics International Games event was held in Chicago in 1968. At the first games, 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada competed in three sports. In 2003, at the World Summer Games in Ireland, more than 7,500 athletes from 150 countries competed in 21 sports.
   Next week, the Special Olympics New Jersey summer games will feature 2,500 athletes from 21 counties playing eight sports — aquatics, bocce, gymnastics, powerlifting, softball, table tennis, tennis and track & field.