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Wheelchair Tennis

Blog: 2012 USTA/ITF Cruyff Foundation Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp

July 10, 2012 03:50 PM
The 2012 USTA/ITF Cruyff Foundation Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp is underway in Mission Viejo, featuring the best & brightest junior players from all over the world.
National Head Coach Dan James shows some of the finer points to the kids and coaches.
The campers got up-close-and-personal with Shamu at Sea World on Day 3.
Day 4 at the 2012 USTA/ITF Junior Wheelchair Camp saw some special campers receive awards.
Already counting down the days until next year's camp...
By Cari Buck, special to USTA.com
So just what happens when you take 24 enthusiastic junior Wheelchair Tennis players and a dozen equally enthusiastic coaches and send them all to sunny California for a week? That's right: You get the 2012 USTA/ITF Cruyff Foundation Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp-Americas. This camp brings together kids and coaches from all over the United States, Canada, Central and South America to this great city of Mission Viejo, Calif. and it is a truly amazing week full of inspiring moments, hard work and lots of laughs.
This is my second year as a coach and I have been looking forward to it for weeks now, seeing familiar faces and meeting new friends. The anticipation grew steadily -- like a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive. Here's my experience from Southern California:
Day 1- Monday, July 9
After a quick warm-up of stretching and pushing, it’s time for mobility drills -- and let me tell you these kids can move! I love the sound of tires spinning as they round cones and chase down those short balls. As we move on to forehand and backhand drills, it’s great to see how much some of the kids have progressed since last year and also checking out the games of some of the new campers. I think to myself:" This year’s tournament is going to be full of some pretty impressive matches."
It’s a pretty hot day, so when lunchtime arrives both coaches and players are happy to head for the shade, hang out under the misters and refuel. For me, its a chance to apply more much-needed sunscreen. After the break we move on to match play, and it is great to see so many campers step up and play in the tournament.  For several of the players it is their first tournament experience ever and while some won and some lost their matches, everyone learned from it and gained some great experience.
After a long first day on the courts, we all head back to the hotel and get cleaned up for dinner and then its off to the Spectrum Mall (a local Southern California shopping megacenter) for a night out, dinner, a little shopping, maybe even a ride on the ferris wheel. After dinner, it’s back to the hotel and off to bed, while we have plenty of happy campers here this week.
Tonight I think we have plenty of tired ones, too.
Day 2 - Tuesday, July 10
Today began with camp t-shirts and photos -- what a large gang we have this year! Time for the wide angle lense to fit us all in.
Today’s highlight had to be Brad Parks visiting. As coaches, we are always excited to see Brad and spend time with him; for the campers, it is a chance to meet one of wheelchair tennis’ greats. Brad has done so much for the sport and as he shares stories about what camp used to be like and how far the sport has come, I wonder if the kids realize they are listening to a living legend. Later, when I see the kids go up and introduce themselves, ask some questions and snap photos, I know they get it.  I can see in their eyes they realize that without Brad, we all might not be here at camp this week.
Now it’s time to get down to business on court: Stretching, warm-ups, a quick review of groundstrokes, and then it’s on to serves, my favorite shot to both hit and teach. A little loosening up and then the orange cones come out, working on placing the serve, keeping it deep. An entire basket through and no one has hit a cone yet, so I up the ante: It never ceases to amaze me the accuracy kids have when free ice cream is at stake!
As another day on the courts comes to a close, its back to the hotel for dinner. After dinner, it was time for a fun game of camp bingo, a chance for everyone to learn some more about fellow campers and coaches alike. What a blast it was to see teams working together to fill out their bingo sheets -- and keep in mind, not all of these campers speak English, so that made for some pretty creative communication and plenty of laughs.  
While some of them have met before - the campers maybe know each other from some tournaments or camp last year - most of them have met for the first time this week. It has only been two days and already it seems like they have known each other for much longer, laughing and joking, sharing photos and videos on their iPhones, razzing coaches. Bottom line is kids are kids regardless of where they are from, what language they speak, or how good their groundstrokes. Kids love having fun, and I am loving it with them.
Day 3 – Wednesday, July 11
Camp is a whale of a good time…
Today, not a single tennis ball was hit. Instead, we had a day off from tennis and enjoyed a fun-filled day at Sea World. 
It was a day full of new experiences, amazing animals, roller coaster rides and plenty of splashing water. After a very wet river raft trip, we headed over to see the Shamu show. For many of the campers, it was their first time seeing the show and it was really fun to experience it with them. A few brave souls even opted to watch from the front row of the splash zone, silly wet kids.  After the show, several campers and coaches were treated to an up-close special visit with the star. I had no idea whales could smile, but apparently Shamu knows how.
We pet bat rays, held starfish and checked out all kinds of other cool creatures: Sharks, sea turtles, seals, otters, flamingos, penguins and dolphins.  For those wanting a few more thrills, it was off to ride the roller coasters Journey to Atlantis (which is very aptly named, as some of us looked like we had been underwater when we got off the ride) and Manta (which I highly recommend you ride before lunch.)  We also watched the high-flying acrobatics show Cirque De La Mer, which left both kids and coaches amazed.
Tomorrow its back to the courts for more tennis and the semi-finals of the tournament, and believe me, the competition is getting tough.
Day 4 – Thursday, July 12
Thursday is always a big day at camp, it’s the conclusion of the tournament and our awards dinner.
In the semifinals and finals of the tournament we had several really good matches. The competitors really pushed themselves and the rest of the campers were all very supportive cheering them on and checking in on scores between their rotations on the drill courts.  At the end of the day, Krystal Kelly and Chris Herman were victorious in the girls and boys divisions, respectively. They were both runners-up last year and truly stepped it up a notch this year to take the titles. Congratulations to both of them and to all the players who competed in the tournament.
This afternoon all the coaches had to get together and discuss awards for outstanding campers; always difficult, because we only have a few awards to give out and every kid here is amazing and deserving. It may sound cliché, but every camper here truly is a winner -- and without each and every one of them, camp simply would not be the same. They all have something positive to share, whether it be their leadership, their drive, or their friendship. They all make a big contribution and, as coaches, it really is a hard decision and not something we take lightly. 
Yet there are always a few that seem to have just that little bit extra, and always step up to the plate.
Our first award is the Mike Watson Award, given to that all-around great camper. Mike Watson was a fantastic individual that ran a junior camp for years, as well as plenty of other events. Mike always gave it everything he had -- there was no "half way" with Mike. This year’s Mike Watson Award recipient is Spencer Haslop. Spencer pushed himself the entire week, took on a leadership role and kept a smile on his face the entire camp. Congratulations Spencer: Somewhere Mike is watching and he would be so proud!
Our second award is the Baseline Award, given to one boy and one girl on behalf of the Baseline Wheelchair Tennis Foundation. The recipients of this award have been recognized for their talent, hard work and desire to excel in the sport. This year’s winners are Jose Estrada and Krystal Kelly. Congratulations to these two outstanding young juniors -- be sure to keep your eyes open for them in the future.
As we head off to bed, we say goodbye to some of the campers and coaches. Our new friends from Argentina, Guatemala and El Salvador head home first thing tomorrow morning. It was wonderful to have them all here at camp and we wish them safe travels. For the rest of us, it’s back to the courts in the morning for our last day of camp.
Day 5 – Friday, July 13
Time to wind things down, and a soggy summer morning put a damper on tennis today. The rain may have kept us from the courts, but it didn’t keep us from sharing a valuable and fun morning. 
While inside, it gave everyone the chance to share their own reflections on the past week. Coaches and campers alike shared our experiences with camp: What we learned, what we liked and what we will all take home with us. Some campers are leaving here more inspired than ever to be the best tennis players they can be, eager to get home and keep practicing. Others leave with a new attitude to always strive to be the best they can be, whether it be in tennis, basketball, school or music.  Every camper is leaving with new friends, new experiences and new motivation.
We talked about travel and being away from home. Several campers have traveled with the World Cup Team, yet for others this was one of the first times they may have been away from home and family for so long.  Coaches shared travel tips, and even how they combat homesickness because it happens to all of us from time to time. A packet of photos, soothing scented candles… and yes, some of us still bring a teddy bear.
We retold funny stories from the past week, shared photos we had taken and exchanged email addresses. Bittersweet goodbyes defined the day, as most were happy to be headed home to family but were very sad to leave.  There were hugs and high-fives all around until the last camper was loaded up and on their way home. 
Now, its time for me to head home as well, saying so long to fellow coaches and staff --  to friends who I have learned so much from. Thank you for yet another amazing week at camp.
The Day After - Saturday, July 14
The morning after camp always seems like a letdown to me. While it is nice to be home, I miss the kids, my fellow coaches, and the wonderful spirit of camp.  
It seemed both ironic and appropriate that after returning from such an inspirational week, I spent this morning watching Wheelchair Tennis great Randy Snow get inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  For those of you who knew Randy, you can attest to his indomitable spirit, his drive and his infectious laughter.  For those of you who never met him, just think about the most inspirational person you can and double it – no, triple it -- and you have Randy Snow.  
Watching Randy’s father, Tom, and friend/coach Bal Moore speak about Randy and accept this honor in his name was a perfect way to cap off a truly amazing week.  It’s hard to put into words just how special this past week has been, but I’ll offer a few choice adjectives: Inspiring, uplifting, exhausting and wonderful.  My fellow coaches and campers know what I’m feeling and I want to thank them all for letting me share the experience with them.  
Counting the days until camp next year…


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