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Jensen-Schmidt Academy for Down Syndrome

The Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy was designed to meet the sport specific needs of children and young adults with Down Syndrome.
The academy has served nearly 3000 children with Down Syndrome.
By Richard Spurling, special to USTA.com
Vince Schmidt founded the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy in 2001 after his son, Jonas, was born with Down Syndrome. Schmidt realized very quickly that there were very few opportunities for children with Down Syndrome to play tennis in the US in an organized way. 
For a year, Schmidt worked with several researchers to develop a tennis curriculum that would suit the needs of children with Down Syndrome. Schmidt’s curriculum focuses on improving the muscle tone, coordination and balance -- challenges for so many children with Down Syndrome.

Schmidt tested his curriculum and invited his friends, Grand Slam doubles champions Luke and Murphy Jensen, to get involved with the organization.
“Bringing Luke and Murphy to the cause of Down Syndrome was really quite easy," says Schmidt. "The brothers were eager to help since the birth of my son, Jonas. The Tennis Academy was a natural extension of our long friendship and working relationship.”

Once the research and testing had been completed, the first academy started in the spring of 2002. An academy is a two- or three-day series of clinics that combine the three important areas of development for children with Down Syndrome. Tennis is taught appropriately, including cardiovascular work, strength work and balance exercises. 
In addition, there is a sense of community and social-skills building that is critical to the program’s overall success. The athletes feel a kinship with one another and perhaps more importantly a kinship to their buddies who are not disabled. This allows the buddies to learn what it means to have a disability in the process.

To that end, the curriculum requires a one-to-one buddy-to-athlete ratio. In addition, there are many volunteer coaches and staff members to support those who help run the academies. Volunteers do everything, including assisting with registrations, first aid, serving snacks and ball retrieval. 
Schmidt said he is touched by the fact that many of the same volunteers return each year because they want to help to make a connection with the children with Down Syndrome.

Today, the academy operates in 13 cities, and established programs have been launched in eight of them (Atlanta; Tulsa, Okla.; Houston; Los Angeles; New York; Richmond, Va.; St. Louis; and Washington D.C.). At last count, the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy has served about 3,000 children with Down Syndrome.
Schmidt’s future plans for the academy involve further expansion to new cities so that more and more athletes with Down Syndrome will have the opportunity to play tennis.
The USTA has developed a database of Adaptive Tennis Programs with the purpose of connecting tennis players with the programs available to meet their tennis needs. Stay informed about grants, events, awards and more. View the complete list of registered programs. If you do not see your program, register now for free.
The USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee would like to know more about your programs, people and events. This gives recognition to the great work you’re doing and inspires others to provide similar services. Contact us now!


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