OCEAN CITY — The pride on Pam Ginet’s face was unmistakable as her 17-year-old son, Zach, paraded into the pool area Sunday morning with his Ocean City Stingrays teammates.
Zach Ginet was among the 88 swimmers participating in a Special Olympics Area Aquatics Meet at the Ocean City Aquatic & Fitness Center.
Anyone who’s been to a high school swim meet knows the noise can be deafening at times, but it’s nothing compared to the way these competitors were greeted.
Rock music blared, parents and friends cheered wildly and smiles were plentiful as the swimmers waved to the crowd of nearly 300 who packed the bleachers or stood in every corner.
The joyful scene nearly brought Pam Ginet to tears.
“This is only Zach’s second year as a member of the Stingrays,” said Ginet, a Seaville resident.
“It’s such a nice sense of community, and it gives him something to look forward to. They practice every Tuesday, so there’s a commitment level. Plus, he gets to see a lot of his friends.”
Special Olympics hosts meets in Gloucester County and Ocean City every year, and the swimmers also stay overnight each summer for a meet at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.
The motto of Special Olympics is “let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.”
At poolside, Sophia Ginet, a 14-year-old freshman at Ocean City High School and Zach’s sister, was ready to cheer on her brother, a sophomore at the school.
“He comes to my field-hockey games to support me, so it’s nice to be able to do the same for him,” Sophia said. “He loves coming to sports events. He gets very excited.”
Doug Bergen, Ocean City’s public-information officer, helped lead the Stingrays into the pool area and was busy making sure all competitors were in the right places.
For Bergen, it was a labor of love on a Sunday morning.
“We’re proud to host the event,” he said. “(Meet director) Karen Pratz puts so much work into organizing it. It’s a joy to watch. The swimmers all have the right attitude. It’s great.”
Lexi Yeatts, a 22-year-old from Cherry Hill, was looking forward to swimming in her event.
“I love the rush of water over your body,” she said while sitting next to her mother, Sandy Yeatts-Wilson.
“I’m going to win. I like winning medals — I hang them in my room.”
Yeatts was competing for the South Jersey Aquatic Club Gators, a fledgling organization backed financially by the Camden County Board of Freeholders.
Anthony Wilson, Yeatts’ stepfather and a Gators coach, glanced around the pool and took in the atmosphere.
“This is amazing for these young people,” he said. “Being a member of a swim team gives them a real sense of accomplishment.”
Pam Ginet says her son’s affiliation with the Stingrays brings other benefits, as well.
“It gives parents a place to share stories with others who have children with Down syndrome,” she said. “That’s very helpful.”
But Ginet’s favorite part of the team is the independence it fosters in her son.
“When they go to TCNJ in the summer, the swimmers stay in the dorms with their coaches,” she said. “Parents don’t stay over. The kids feel like actual college students.”