Missouri Valley / Nebraska

Phil Wolfe Made Impact in Lincoln with Tennis Buddies Program

Andrea Gallagher | September 13, 2022

Back in 2008, when Lincoln hosted the National Special Olympic Games at Abbott Sports Complex, Phil Wolfe had an idea while he was volunteering. Why not start up a tennis program for people with intellectual disabilities?


“We started with six athletes, worked on the basics of tennis and participated in the Nebraska State Games,” Wolfe said. “One of our Lincoln players, Haley Waggoner, qualified for the Nebraska team for the National Games.  She even got to meet Andy Roddick.  The whole experience was something she will always treasure.”


Today the Tennis Buddies program has around 20 athletes including men, women and children between the ages of 12-42. He reaches out to the community for volunteers. He tells them they don’t need to be a good player, just to have a good heart.

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Haley Waggoner has been one of the athletes since the start of the program. She said Wolfe is willing to do anything for the athletes and does it all with no complaints.


“I was with Phil when the Tennis Buddies program started, and have so many memories,” she said. “Two that stand out: He coached tennis for the 2010 Special Olympics USA Games and I was part of the team. We had to drive to Omaha every week and I bonded with him more. Second is that he made me a better player, starting in the low division and now at the highest level for the Special Olympics. He is an amazing person and I will never forget the memories that I have with him.”


The athletes and volunteers also take part in social outings outside of tennis including going to Saltdogs baseball games, picnics, ice cream parties and more. After leading the program for close to 15 years, Wolfe has decided to step down, but he will never forget his time with the athletes and volunteers.

“One thing I see volunteers learn is that the athletes have such good hearts, they try hard, and don’t give up. They demonstrate good sportsmanship,” he said. “This I know for sure, when I leave a Tennis Buddies practice, I leave with joy in my heart.”


Wolfe plans to continue volunteering on the court with the Tennis Buddies athletes. If you have interest in volunteering for Tennis Buddies, check out the website at www.lincolntennisbudies.com.



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