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ADAPTIVE

Laredo Tennis fit for a king

April 7, 2014 07:20 PM
The Laredo Tennis Association provides special tools that make tennis possible for players that are blind or visually impaired.
Players become familiar with the feel of the racquet prior to hitting the specialized balls designed to be heard as they approach and bounce.
Martin High School Homecoming King, Cruz Ramos, says tennis has changed his life!

By Joyce Dreslin, special to USTA.com

“It’s not just tennis,” said Tina Trevino, President of the Laredo (Texas) Tennis Association. “It’s more than tennis.”

Trevino came to that conclusion during a break from the action one Tuesday evening when she sat down to talk to one of the participants in their newest program. Cruz Ramos is an 18-year-old high school senior, and he told Tina, “Tennis has changed my life.”

He then went on to tell of how he was feeling so much self-confidence from his success in learning to play tennis that he decided to run for Homecoming King at Martin High School. No one gave him much of a chance of winning the title, but they didn’t discourage him either. And what do you know? He won! When he accepted his crown and was widely interviewed by the press, he proudly said he was a member of the Laredo Tennis Association and the Laredo Braille Club.

Yes, Cruz is legally blind, and in Laredo, that no longer is an obstacle to learning to play tennis.

LTA began a program to introduce blind children to tennis when approached by a tennis pro who was teaching at a school for the blind. Trevino, who knows something about eyesight as she works for her ophthalmologist husband, agreed to give the concept a try and contacted the Laredo Braille Club and the Special Ed departments of two school districts.

Trevino and the association have found that when beginning to teach tennis to the blind, you have to teach a lot more than tennis. While these children have, for the most part, been mainstreamed into regular classrooms, when it came to physical education, they weren’t allowed to participate. They didn’t know how to run. Those who never had vision or very little vision had no idea what a court was or how a racquet looked or felt. Instruction gave new meaning to the term “back to basics.”

The tennis association partnered with the Parks and Rec Dept. of Laredo to use a gymnasium because of the acoustics. You couldn’t play in the noisy outdoors with a group who were dependent upon hearing. A court was created using rope and painters’ tape so that the lines could be “felt.” Special balls with the core removed and ball bearings placed inside were used so they could be heard.

Videos taken of the first lesson and the end of the session show a phenomenal improvement, not only in tennis skills, but also in attitude and demeanor. Heads were held high, shoulders no longer slumped, and at least one child could hit a 13-ball rally.

Those attending every week of a session were presented with shirts embroidered with the LTA logo they could feel. The total ecstasy displayed was like winning Wimbledon -- or being crowned Homecoming King. And of course there is the desire and commitment to continue, both from the new tennis players and the Laredo Tennis Association.

Changing lives, one tinkling ball at a time.

Learn more about the Laredo Tennis Association's program and meet Cruz Ramos by viewing this video on NBCLatino.com.

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