They arrive at the Gwynedd-Mercy College campus, youth and adults of all ages, with a variety of physical and intellectual disabilities: among them, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Fragile X Syndrome, autism, Asperger’s Syndrome. But when they enter the courts for their Touch of Tennis Clinics each summer, they have one thing in common: They’re all tennis players.
Touch of Tennis director Jim Holt has served up tennis to this very special population for 15 years. Success at many levels of performance is celebrated, and the reward is a physical activity that results in elevated self-esteem, social interaction, improved coordination and a whole lot of fun. They get all this—plus a T-shirt and a video—absolutely free.
The program emphasizes drills and games that sharpen athletic skills and bolster self-esteem, Holt says, but there is no organized competition. He began the program because, as a special-education teacher himself, he knew there was a lack of athletic activities available for those with disabilities. As the part-time tennis coach for the Gwynedd-Mercy College, he also knew he had access to a facility and students. With courts and potential volunteers, he felt he could provide a tennis solution to fulfill a long-time need and make a difference in the lives of many people. Holt says he saw a way to serve handicapped players and, at the same time, combine his love of special education and tennis.
“Why not put these two together?” Holt recalls thinking. “There’s barely anything out there as far as this goes, and tennis is expensive.”
Because the excitement is contagious, and because helping these athletes makes one feel good about oneself, there is never a shortage of volunteers of all ages. On any given Touch of Tennis evening, there may be over 100 people on the courts, 70 athletes and 30 volunteers. Holt and a few key instructors have undergone additional training in QuickStart methods and have received foam balls and smaller nets to enhance what they can offer the participants, especially the young and the novice players.
“You have people from all the different towns, and it’s a melting pot,” Holt says. “That’s what makes it so neat.”
The word “hero” is defined as a person who is idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. To see more examples of heroism, and compelling evidence that this sport suffers no shortage of such individuals, click here.