St. Louis Hosts L2 Indoor Wheelchair Championships
After a successful inaugural showing last year, the St. Louis Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championships returned on August 4-6. The tourney — bumped up from a Level 4 in 2022 to a Level 2 this go-round — again took place at Chesterfield Athletic Club.
With the assistance of tournament players and grants courtesy of USTA National, USTA Missouri Valley and USTA St. Louis, Tournament Director Mark Zolman said this year’s event was an “upgrade” from 2022. The tourney again featured both singles and doubles for A, B, C and D coed divisions as well as singles and doubles for the quad open and 18U A coed flights. Local news station Fox 2 did an on-air preview of the tourney.
“It’s just so much fun,” Zolman said. “We wanted to make it more points so more people would come. It’s that simple. We wanted a bigger event. For players it’s great because it’s more points. The more points, the better it is for them. It makes it more appetizing for them to come.”
About 30 players from across the country — including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Missouri — competed in the Level 2 tournament. That number is an increase from the 18 who signed up last year.
Local standouts Kevin Green, Casey Adams and Katie Harris represented St. Louis at the tournament. Green captured the Coed A singles flight without dropping a set. He also teamed with Caiden Baxter to win the Coed A doubles division in dominant fashion.
Adams claimed the Coed B singles crown. He defeated Matthew Fritzie in three sets — 6-2, 2-6, 10-8 — in the semifinals before winning the final in straight sets. Additionally, Adams paired with Geoffrey Kent to win the Coed B doubles title. Harris reached the semis of the Coed C singles flight. She and her partner lost in the Coed B doubles opening round.
“We’ve got some great players here in St. Louis,” Zolman said. “I feed off them. They mentored me into this game. The community of wheelchair tennis is something we don’t see anywhere else in tennis. When we do tournaments, it’s different. Everybody plays singles, and everybody plays doubles. One price and you play doubles and singles. We cater all the food. It’s one big family. We all dine together. We talk together. It’s a very giving community.”
Zolman noted tweaks this year — including more officials, the tournament finals being chaired and unique food options at the request of players — propelled the event forward. Support from USTA grants aided in these additions and sets up the event well for future renditions.
“One thing we push is this is a player’s tournament,” Zolman said. “That was our goal from Day 1. It’s all about the players and not about trophies. There is prize money involved based on attendance. The more people who come, the bigger the prize for all letter divisions. It’s equally given out. We decided last year everyone is going to get it. We present it on the court.”
A USTA National grant is helping with programming efforts geared toward junior competitors. Zolman said attracting more individuals to the sport — particularly youth players — is a primary goal of the St. Louis Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championships. Six players from 8 to 15 years old in Zolman’s wheelchair tennis program will participate in the L2 festivities.
“We want our kids involved. We want everybody involved in it,” Zolman said. “That’s our big thing this year. Last year we had one player, Faith, who is 7. She was there and watched. Now, she’s in our program. That’s our real success right there — getting more people to play. That’s our biggest goal.”
Another objective is expanding wheelchair play opportunities throughout USTA Missouri Valley. Tulsa is set to host a wheelchair tournament next year. Zolman is optimistic more events are on the way. He is hoping to host a junior wheelchair circuit event in St. Louis down the line.
With 501c3 status in the works, Zolman said that should help draw additional grants, sponsorships as well as fundraising opportunities. He said the cost of travel for tournaments and equipment — including chairs — can act as barriers to players. Zolman noted the great situation St. Louis has with Chesterfield Athletic Club connected to DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel to host out-of-town participants. He said both facilities have been outstanding partners.
And while Zolman is excited about improvements the St. Louis Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championships made this year, he’s looking forward to what he and his team have in store to make the 2024 tournament even better.
“That’s what tennis is about: the people,” Zolman said. “I’ve just been lucky. They’ve mentored me in teaching wheelchair tennis. I’m able-bodied. I’ve been able to play in a chair. They taught me how to move. That gives me credibility. My players help us with the kids. You want to see somebody who looks like you. Who understands what you go through on a daily basis.
“To see all those pieces come together, it’s very humbling and very touching. I love these guys. I love everything about it.”
To read a USTA St. Louis article recapping the inaugural St. Louis Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championships, click here.