No stranger to the sports court, field or diamond, Frank Fanelli has spent a good portion of his 67 years coaching youth. The retired redevelopment director for the city of Oakland now devotes his time to coaching a team of Special Olympics athletes in San Ramon through the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"I get more out of it than I put in it," says Fanelli, who has his own baseball team as a father of three sons and grandfather of six grandsons. "After coaching all levels, my emphasis is now turned toward these athletes who have disabilities."

Founding the San Ramon Bear Youth Football League shortly after he and his wife Anita moved to Danville in 1984, Fanelli started coaching the Special Olympics softball team, the San Ramon A's, three years ago with 25 players. The second year, the team won the gold medal at the Northern California competition. Currently in its fourth week of the six-week season, the team is more than 40 players strong. About 13 of them will compete again in mid-August, with the remaining team members competing in four skill programs including running bases, throwing, fielding and batting from a tee, he adds.

"Their desire to play and to participate is unbelievable," says Fanelli. "The game has a different meaning to them."


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Fanelli says he has coached baseball from T-ball to high school for almost 37 years and has been involved in the Special Olympics for about six years, first volunteering as an assistant basketball coach. He is also very active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in San Ramon.

"I fully enjoy interfacing with the athletes," he says. "I enjoy the relationships, the bonding and the interaction with the players" who feel such a rush of excitement just to run the bases. They smile, and everyone roots for everyone."

Fanelli is assisted by Tim Szumowski, the head basketball coach.

"I measure success based on the increase in the interest in the program," he says. "My goal as a coach is to make sure the athletes enjoy the game of baseball and have the opportunity to play baseball" instead of just watching the game, he adds.

"The nice thing about baseball is that it is a team sport," says Fanelli, He explains that because of their disabilities, many of them don't get the opportunity to participate in activities at school. This program not only gives them the opportunity to be on a team, but to participate, cheer for each other, work together and develop camaraderie -- and fellowship.

"This program is not about me. I get so much out of it," says Fanelli.

"It's a blessing for me to share my skills with the players. It's always good to give back," says Fanelli. "That's my full-time job now."

For more information regarding the Therapeutic Recreation programs through the city of San Ramon, visit www.sanramon.ca.gov/parks/programs/therapeutic.htm.

Contact Monica Lander at landerfamily@comcast.net.