County’s sports hall of famers

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Mary Medland

Tennis ace Shantha Chandra has promoted tennis in county schools and taught the sport to adults and children alike through the Dept. of Recreation & Parks. She will be inducted into the Community Sports Hall of Fame this fall, along with five other Howard County residents.
Photo by Matailong Du

Shantha Chandra’s love of tennis began when she was living in North Carolina. As a Duke University faculty wife, she began playing at different clubs. But when the local country club told her she could not play there — due to her race — Chandra said she “got really competitive,” working extra hard to show the club the talent they had missed out on.

She moved to Columbia in 1997 and began teaching tennis for the Dept. of Recreation & Parks. Chandra didn’t need to convince Howard County she had talent. After 17 years as Howard County’s tennis maven, she will be inducted into the county’s Community Sports Hall of Fame this fall.

“Howard County already had an established tennis program, and it hired me to teach children,” she said, adding that she created the Multi-Cultural Children’s Tennis Association to give all children, regardless of their backgrounds or financial situation, the opportunity to enjoy the sport.

“I teach tennis all year long, although in the winter we move into the elementary school gyms,” she said. In the summer, she teaches children at a tennis camp at the courts at Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

Working through the schools, Chandra covers some 25 elementary and five middle schools, with smaller rackets for younger children and nets that can be adjusted for size.

“I love tennis … it teaches social skills, sportsmanship and respect for others. I tell the children that even if they are the winners, they should be polite and tell their opponents, ‘You played a really good game.’”

Howard Sports Hall of Fame

Five other Howard County residents will be joining Chandra in October as new inductees in the Community Sports Hall of Fame.

They include Charles “Bernie” Denison, Allen Fleming, C. Vernon Gray, Art McGinnis and Marilyn Miceli, and their accomplishments encompass a number of sports, including football, basketball, golf, cheerleading and tennis, among others.

The Sports Hall of Fame, located at the Howard County Recreation and Parks Dept. headquarters, serves to educate the public about the cultural, historical and personal contributions of local residents to community sports. Its first members were honored in 2005.

Inductees agree that the most important lesson that children (as well as adults) learn from playing sports is not the value of winning, but rather how to be a gracious loser — acting with integrity, perseverance, responsibility and other skills that will serve them well when they are not on the playing field.

Leading youth

Charles “Bernie” Dennison, 60, certainly shares that view. He has spent more than three decades working as coach, administrator, board member and director of the Howard County Youth Program (HCYP). Dennison estimates that 10,000 children participate each year in its basketball, baseball and softball programs.

“We have a community outreach program, and have financial scholarships based on need,” he said. “Our programs are open to everyone in the county, and we now have third-generation coaches — all of whom went on to be productive citizens — in our program,” he said.

As with others involved in youth sports, Dennison has seen the positive benefits of his program. “Our philosophy is that the least important thing children learn is about the sport,” he said. “They learn the importance of camaraderie with others, and that how one loses is more important than how one wins.”

Allen Fleming, 65, is a firm believer that the lessons one learns from sports can be important when it comes to success in life. To that end, in 1993, he organized the Columbia Angels, an independent baseball team for 12-year-olds.

“I was the youth director at Columbia Community Church, and we used the resources from the church, but did not take any money from any league,” Fleming said. “Still, we were accepted as an independent team.”

He then went on to become president of the Howard County Trojans Youth Football program, today known as the Howard County Terps, and in 1999 he founded the Columbia Community Church’s Warriors Football program. In addition, today there is a cheerleading team, which grew out of the Trojans program.

With support from his wife and an older daughter, who coach the cheerleaders, Fleming emphasizes that the most important detail about sports for children is to help them understand that, in many ways, athletics imitate life.

“You need discipline to be able to get along with your teammates and to play fairly,” he said. “This is all about being a better person and understanding how you can contribute to your community.”

Golfing for good

C. Vernon Gray, 75, said an enormous amount of interest for golf in the United States was generated by Tiger Woods’ winning the 1997 Masters Tournament.

“I had played golf in graduate school, and was asked to represent the National Association of County Officials on the National Advisory Board of the First Tee, which was chaired by George H.W. Bush,” said Gray, who is administrator of the Howard County Office of Human Rights. [For more information, see the Beacon’s February cover story, “Office still fights discrimination,” or visit http://bit.ly/cvernongray.]

“I founded the First Tee of Howard County, and as I was very much interested in youth and young people, I saw this as a wonderful program … you can really help children develop character through golf,” he said.

Indeed, the First Tee has nine core principles that it stresses to its young participants — integrity, honesty, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy and judgment.

Originally, the program was for disadvantaged children ages 8 to 18, but it is now open to all, including those with disabilities. The weekend program has its own facility, largely due to the financial generosity of Dave Costello of Costello Construction.

“Kids love this program,” said Gray. “They love putting and practicing their swings.

“Golf is a lifelong sport, and it is one where children can improve because they set their own pace. But the most important element is that those nine core principles teach children things about themselves and how they relate to other people,” Gray said.

Providing opportunities is also the mission of Art McGinnis. The Elkridge Adult Athletic Association (EAAA) came about when McGinnis arrived in Howard County and found far fewer recreational opportunities than he thought the county deserved.

As the EAAA’s co-founder and later co-director and president, he was the driving force behind organizing baseball and softball fields at Rockburn Branch Park. Once he got the fields up and running, he made sure the fields had lights for nighttime play.

Over the years, McGinnis has devoted countless hours to coaching hundreds of children in lacrosse, softball, basketball and soccer. The EAAA also stages annual events — Rockburn Haunted House, Rockburn Car Show and the Spring Egg Hunt — that raise money for charity and a scholarship.

Boosting the Special Olympics

When Marilyn Miceli first began looking for athletic programs for her now-33-year-old son with Down syndrome, pretty much the only thing available was a track and field Special Olympics day at Mt. Hebron High School.

“I wanted him to be exposed to athletics all year long,” said Miceli, now the assistant director of Special Olympics Howard County. “After working to get my son, Jason, training in all sorts of sports, I finally convinced a young woman at the Dept. of Parks and Recreation to put together something more organized.”

The upshot was that Miceli and a number of other parents created Special Olympics Howard County, volunteering their time and energy to serve as coaches, and to build a business model that enabled the organization to be financially stable. Today, it has teams for cycling, soccer, power lifting, tennis, volleyball, basketball, aquatics, cheerleading and softball, among others.

“Building from an all-volunteer base, we now have more than 600 athletes who range from 8 to 79 years old,” Miceli said. “But we know that there are people we are still not reaching.

“Special Olympics Howard County provides an opportunity for individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in a community sports program that increases their self-confidence and self-esteem. That carries over into their employment and social networks, and makes it possible for them to have the same lifestyle that everyone else has.”

The County’s “Community Sports Hall of Fame” is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To learn more, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/halloffame.htm.

The 2014 Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony will take place at the 12th annual Celebration of Sports on Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center. Tickets are $40 each or $400 for a table of ten. Tickets may also be purchased at Recreation and Parks Headquarters, 7120 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. For more information, call (410) 313-1691.