The Ultimate Reward

bonnie steele

The meaning and impact of the Special Olympics literally hits home for some people.

A Special Olympics coach and tennis advocate, Bonnie Steele has seen her daughter, Ryann, and sister, Debbie, compete in the Pennsylvania games for the last several years. For the entire family, only one word describes the games.


A former USTA League Tennis player and always a tennis fan, Steele’s first experience with her daughter during the Special Olympics took place in 1999 with basketball. But after a few injuries and hospital visits, it was time for a change. That’s when Steele decided it was time to consider tennis as an option.

“This is now my fifth year coaching tennis, and everything about the sport and the Special Olympics has been perfect,” she said.

Coaching a team in Adams County, Pa., Steele wants to see each special needs athlete — child or adult — experience sports in some way. Tennis is her choice, but the idea of inclusion, and sports in general, is her biggest message.

“The joy that the individuals get from being able to succeed in a sport, even if it’s in a small way, is the most rewarding thing I can imagine being involved with,” she said. “These individuals have so many obstacles in their lives, and playing is a great escape.”

One of Steele’s favorite memories is that of Ryann competing against Loretta Claiborne, who is currently one of the most well-known Special Olympics athletes in the country.

“It was really fun to watch, and I was so proud of her.”

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