Wheelchair tennis is alive and well at the Arvada Tennis Center. This beautiful, outdoor, lighted facility, nestled by 100 year old pine trees and adjacent to Ralston Creek, has 8 accessible courts. In 2007, Apex Park and Recreation District matched grant funds received by Jefferson County Open Space, to modify the building and bathrooms to meet ADA compliance.
With active wheelchair programs taking place in Denver and Highlands Ranch, it seemed fitting to offer programming on the west side of the metro area. Players expressed interest in having an up/down league, where an able-bodied player is teamed up with a wheelchair player.
In 2008, the inaugural season of up/down tennis began, with matches played at both Highlands Ranch Tennis Pavilion and the Arvada Tennis Center. Eight teams were fielded and play began in May, for 7 weeks during the summer. Able bodied players were matched with wheelchair players in an attempt to keep play relatively consistent. Teams consisted of husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, or pairings of players teaming up for the first time.
What transpired on the court was magical. Stronger chair players mentored those needing to improve court mobility; these same players helped the up player learn their role on court. Many of the able-bodied players listened to the stories behind the reason for needing a wheelchair to play tennis: levels of injury range of mobility, what chair players can and can’t do. Learning when an up player is being helpful or when they have crossed the line to removing a player’s independence. Wheelchair players’ are a dedicated group that does not allow excuses to get in the way. The able-bodied player can learn a lot from playing up/down tennis. Whatever the barrier may be, they will find a way to work around it.
In 2009, play was condensed to only the Arvada Tennis Center location and 10 teams took part over the summer. Education is by far the best thing that has happened hosting this league. I vividly remember an able-bodied spectator watching this league and asking me what the chair players were doing. “Playing tennis” was my reply, and you could tell this player had never considered there was any other way to play the game, other than using your legs. Staff, able-bodied players and even spectators learned what players appreciated assistance from their vehicle to the court, who needed assistance transferring from an everyday chair to a sports chair, how to remove wheels from the chair frame, who needed assistance picking up stray balls, and most importantly, who’s service dog was allowed to not be “working” so we could play with them!
Friendships were formed, understanding developed, laughter was heard and there were some great matches that took place. Wheelchair tennis players are great athletes to be able to anticipate the path of the incoming ball and maneuver their chair into position, in time to set up and execute the shot. Even with the 2 bounce rule, that the chair players may utilize, this is no easy task. Next time you see a wheelchair tennis player; see if they have an extra chair that you could try!
Players had so much fun, that a fall league began in September and continued until the temperatures were too cold to continue. In 2010, this league will continue and thanks to a grant from the United States Tennis Association, players’ fees will be nominal. No USTA membership is needed to participate in this league, although players are encouraged to support the USTA through membership, as these fees are channeled back into the tennis community for grass root programs and to make grant funds available. Information on this league will be available by visiting either Apex Park or Recreation District’s website, www.apexprd.org, the Colorado Wheelchair Foundation’s website, www.cwtf.net or calling the Arvada Tennis Center at 303-420-1210. Both chair and able-bodied players will be needed, as well as substitutes. Contact either of these organizations for information on financial assistance, as we want to see you on the court! Donations to the Colorado Wheelchair Tennis Foundation are tax deductible and will be used to defray costs of clinics and workshops.