Two free tickets. That’s all it took for Fely Ong to be hooked on the game and realize that her passion lay in inspiring others to pick up a racquet. 


From that Volvo Tennis Tournament at the University of California-Los Angeles where Ong spent her time at a USTA booth discussing the benefits of the sport in exchange for two free tickets, she has been looking for more ways to stay involved. Ong found new ways to give back to the sport when she moved to Illinois and joined her current club.


There, she became well-versed with the many tournaments hosted throughout the year and began offering her help. But what motivated Ong the most was her connection with the adaptive program at the club. 


The program has been running for over 25 years, organized by a special education teacher, and started with just four players with Down Syndrome. ADVERTISEMENT As more and more interest was generated by the program, players flocked to it, as did Ong. For the past eight years, Ong has been assisting the program as a volunteer assistant coach. But what Ong saw that she loved the most was getting to know players on a personal level, watching how their games developed. 


“It’s so rewarding to see the joy and happiness of the players,” said Ong. “When we do hand-eye coordination exercises, and they are able to catch the ball, they jump and are just so happy.


“It’s just something that we take for granted.”


Ong says that some of her brightest moments are out on the court every Thursday with the adaptive players, sharing in their joy of hitting the tennis ball.


“They are also very appreciative and kind to each other,” Ong added. 


Though Ong was thrilled to interact with students every week, she realized that the program was not reaching new players. So, Ong decided to take matters into her own hands.


It just so happened that every summer for the last seven years, the adaptive players were able to have free court time at her club. In 2018, a woman stopped Ong to say how much she loved watching the players and thought her friend would be interested. That friend turned out to be the director of an after-school program for diverse students with special needs, called the iCan Dream Center.  The facility was founded in March, 2013 and offers afterschool programs  for youth aged 14-21 with intellectual disabilities, autism and various diverse needs.


Ong immediately connected with the center, and a new adaptive tennis program (iCan Dream Tennis) was born, offering tennis to players in an after-school format. Though the program is relatively new, Ong is excited to continue offering and promoting adaptive tennis in her community. Recruiting volunteers to assist with the program provides an invaluable experience for the students and volunteers as well; players receive personalized attention from the volunteers. It is her goal to fundraise for the program to offset the cost for new adaptive players.


“I think we need to offer tennis to everyone, especially the diverse population with special needs,” said Ong. “I don’t think we are out there promoting it enough; I’m trying to find ways to get families involved as well.”


With the ever-changing scene of tennis, Ong hopes she will involve more diverse adaptive players for years to come. 


Learn more about Midwest Adpative Tennis here.


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