June Gold Star Honorees
Left: Becky Sorg. Right: Melissa Clarke-Wharff.
In honor of our 100th anniversary in 2020, the USTA Missouri Valley is recognizing 100 deserving tennis providers, players, partners and more each month.
Selected nominees will be given a Gold Star award, recognizing them for the contributions they are making to support and grow the game in the USTA Missouri Valley based on specific program areas and attributes.
Iowa’s June honorees are Becky Sorg, a teacher with the Cedar Rapids Prairie School District, and Melissa Clarke-Wharff, founder of Courage League Sports.
Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you got into your position.
Becky Sorg: I'm in my 15th year of teaching and still LOVE my job! I currently teach K-4 Elementary P.E., as well as Adaptive P.E. I also have prior teaching experience as a 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classroom teacher. I've always wanted to be an elementary teacher, but my true passion was to teach P.E. and health to any grade level. Six years ago when a P.E. position finally opened up, I was ready to roll and truly love what I do!
Melissa Clarke-Wharff: I started Courage League Sports about seven years ago, due to my son having six strokes at the age of 8. I was frustrated as a mom that there were no options for my son and many others in our community living with special needs. Our programs are available to all abilities, no matter if you have a cognitive, emotional or physical challenge. I worked in corporate America for over 20 years and when this happened to my son I just felt that things needed to change for these special kids and adults and they deserved an opportunity to show what they can do and to just play.
Why do you do what you do?
Becky Sorg: My passion for teaching P.E. to kids comes from my positive experiences as a student during my childhood school years. I credit this to the many wonderful teachers I had who taught me to use my imagination to learn and play! My hope for all of my students is for them to take away positive memories in P.E. so they will become life-long learners of play! When students become physically literate, they find what kind of activities or "play" they can enjoy for pleasure and health. My favorite part of my job is when I see kids involved in an activity where they are having so much fun, they don't even realize they are moving! I believe that these types of experiences will remain with them into adulthood, which in turn, may cause them to be less sedentary.
Melissa Clarke-Wharff: Courage League has grown beyond my expectations. I do this for the smiles and the realization that so many of our participants can play when given an opportunity. They need the opportunity for themselves to learn what their bodies can do and show them no matter what they can be active and be like many others by participating in sports. My favorite part is seeing our participants doing something new like tennis while their parents or families watch. Most of the time, parents are hesitant to have their child try something new and when they see them do it, it is an amazing to see their faces and the joy. Our favorite things to see is them sweating and smiling!
What advice do you have for those who'd like to run a program or get more people on the court?
Becky Sorg: Tennis has always been something I've enjoyed and I really wanted to share this life-long activity with my students in class and beyond. School P.E. budgets do not go far and I was in need of equipment for teaching and to start an after-school tennis club. This is where the USTA grant program has been so very generous! Our entire school district was able to benefit from these grants to get enough tennis equipment, including adaptive tennis equipment, for each participating building. As a district, we are now able to introduce tennis to our students to hopefully instill the love of the game. My advice for anybody who is serious about this USTA program is to stop thinking about it and go for it! The representatives from the USTA are there to help and you will not regret it. The user-friendly curriculum, equipment, and training is top notch. With your positive guidance to your tennis students, you will for sure help pave the path for life-long players of tennis!
Melissa Clarke-Wharff: USTA Missouri Valley provides us with program opportunities, ideas and support to provide adaptive tennis programs in our community. USTA has connected us with others doing adaptive programs and has helped us put together a comprehensive program. Starting small is my advice, don’t get frustrated with a smaller group. When working with special needs, many are hesitant to start something new. The key is also sticking with the basics longer, and grouping your participants by like abilities. Even though they are special needs, abilities vary and we strongly suggest putting like abilities together to give more confidence to those who are working at the same speeds. Utilize volunteer coaches to be their teammates and work with them, providing confidence and support. You can even put a volunteer in a wheelchair to play along with your other kids in chairs. Remember to keep it energized, keep it different (provide different games/ideas for skill development) and keep them moving! Sweating and smiling equals happy participants and happy parents/families. Thank you for this opportunity to share and the recognition.