Carol Keller has been a volunteer coach of developmentally disabled athletes in Derby since 1983, and she continues to derive benefits that go beyond the field of play.
She remains in contact with people she coached many years ago.
“It’s like having a huge family that not many get the opportunity to have,” she said.
Keller, a retired physical therapist for the Derby public schools, helped start the Derby Free Spirits, an organization that provides recreational activities for people with developmental disabilities. Over the years, she has coached volleyball, softball, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics and track and field.
She has helped her teams compete in the Special Olympics and other games for the disabled. This year she coached a volleyball team in the fall, and she is coaching a track and field team this spring.
For 26 years, she has coordinated the Challenge Games, a qualifying meet for national competition among athletes from all over the state and region. This year’s meet is May 17.
Keller said she tends to stress sportsmanship and camaraderie with her teams because she thinks those qualities are an important part of developing life skills.
“I get an awful lot out of this,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to see individuals improve their skills and develop confidence and sportsmanship as well as the sheer joy of being part of something.
“I’ve seen friendships and relationships develop between participants and their families that stretch far beyond their sports seasons and last a lifetime.”