By Joy Wegner
Even small towns need a wheelchair tennis advocate. In Muncie, Indiana, I happen to be that person. From the moment I first saw wheelchair tennis played, I knew it was a great thing. Our wheelchair program started four years ago with one player. The following year, the Muncie Tennis Association launched the McCann Memorial Wheelchair Open, a USTA sanctioned tournament in honor of Aly Ferguson McCann. It has been great to see some of the best wheelchair tennis players in the world come to small-town Muncie to play in this tournament, and also brand-new players who can get their first taste of competitive tennis.
The program is growing slowly. In 2009, the MTA introduced our first junior player to wheelchair tennis. Zach is eleven years old and is deaf, but he loves tennis! He even played in the Quickstart Jr. Team Tennis league in the spring. Players come and go...like Chrissy, who got married on August 15th and moved to Ft. Wayne. But then, Elizabeth just started playing last week.
Most recently, I have been excited about an improvement made by the Muncie Park and Recreation Department to accomodate wheelchair tennis. They allowed two city courts to be repainted with Quickstart lines. Because the MTA provided the paint and labor for this project, the city agreed to put in a sidewalk and tear out a curb that had made it difficult for wheelchair players to get onto the courts.
Grants from the USTA and private donations have provided funding for the wheelchair program in the form of lessons, adult and junior sport chairs, tournament and membership scholarships, travel expenses to Midwest-sanctioned events in Ohio and Michigan, and the McCann wheelchair tournament (which had 22 competitors in 2009). The local YMCA, in conjunction with the USTA, now offers a free wheelchair tennis class at its indoor facility on Wednesdays from 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Wheelchair tennis players are some of the greatest people in the world! I am amazed by the strength of mind, the positive spirit, and the incredible patience I see in them. These attributes are developed in everyone who plays tennis, but even more so among wheelchair players. It has been rewarding for me to work with them. If your town has a YMCA, ask if they would apply for a USTA grant to start a wheelchair tennis program. Or better yet, maybe start your own Community Tennis Association, apply for the grant and run a wheelchair program of your own. It is such a good thing!