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Project Inclusion 2007: Moving Forward, Changing Lives

August 1, 2007 11:04 AM

In 2006 the leadership of USTA Southern approved a project aimed to grow the game of tennis amongst the special populations. This request was put forward by the USTA Southern Adaptive Tennis Sub-Committee under the special project name of Project Inclusion. The scope was to hold one-day events in 2007 at four of the nine southern section states. The targeted states were Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Special Populations Tennis Program, Inc. would provide the leadership at each event.

To kick-off the campaign a series of Coaches’ Clinics were scheduled with objectives that included: 1) identify key persons to sustain special needs tennis programs, 2) demonstrate adaptive coaching techniques to advance the skill levels of special needs players, 3) educate local communities on the value of tennis in teaching life skills to special needs players, and 4) create awareness of the opportunities for these special needs players to play this lifetime sport on a year-round basis.

It has been a year with much success in growing the sport and changing lives. On February 28, 2007 a Coaches’ Clinic was conducted in Columbus, GA. This was done in partnership with CORTA, a USTA Community Tennis Association CTA). Previously this first class CTA, under the leadership of Debby Caldwell, had been conducting periodic training of special needs people. However, as a result of the Coaches’ Clinic this tennis community registered ten athletes to compete in the 2007 Special Olympics Georgia Summer Games held at Emory University in Decatur, GA. This was a first time experience for these special people and their respective families. The group not only smiled broadly when given their medals but their families spoke that “we’ll be back next year with more athletes and matching uniforms”.

In July at Chapin, SC a Coaches’ Clinic was held for the tennis enthusiasts throughout the state that desired to get involved in teaching tennis to special needs players. This event was partnered with Special Olympics South Carolina (SOSC). The commitment of SOSC is to have a tennis program in each of its 16 areas throughout the state. NOTE: Over ten states in the nation do not offer tennis as a competitive sport in their Special Olympic program offerings. However, the enthusiasm and quality of leadership in SC leaves us knowing that they will meet their objective sooner rather than later.

These stories are an indication that our greatest challenge is also our greatest opportunity. Special needs tennis players play this sport with the passion, fierceness, and spirit that is an example we all can learn from. With the commitment of tennis professionals, tennis enthusiasts, and passionate volunteers every community could offer a special needs tennis program. The effort at times can be exhausting; but it is always gratifying. The belief of the USTA Southern Adaptive Tennis Sub-committee is that the one-day fun-filled events will soon grow into a network of tennis programs that offer league play and tournament opportunities for special needs tennis players. When that day comes we will again realize that enriching lives through tennis is far more ambitious and worthwhile than any match point that we may have ever won/lost.

To find out more about how to organize an ongoing special needs tennis program in your community or find out about upcoming events please contact Mary Smith at (770) 740-8723 or marymillersmith@hotmail.com.




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