USTA Wheelchair Championships Slated for September
Some of the top wheelchair tennis players in the world will again descend upon St. Louis later this year when the Dwight Davis Tennis Center plays host to the USTA Wheelchair Championships on September 14-19.
Mary Buschmann — CEO and executive director of USTA Missouri Valley — has assisted the committee that runs the six-day event since 2010, when St. Louis became the tournament host city. After last year’s USTA Wheelchair Championships was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Buschmann is looking forward to putting on the event once again in 2021.
“It’s a way to highlight athletes with a skillset that is unbelievable,” Buschmann said. “The abilities they have in a wheelchair to participate in sport in general — and specifically in tennis — is really incredible. They are international, absolutely world-class athletes who come and compete in this. They take pure joy in our sport, which I love to see. They’re fierce competitors on the court.”
Anywhere from 50 to 70 men and women total participate in the annual event, including a strong contingent of international athletes in the open division. Buschmann said the skill divisions of A, B and C are filled up by American competitors.
The tournament is part of the International Tennis Federation’s Super Series, which falls right under a Grand Slam event. It is likewise the championships for the US Wheelchair letter players. The tourney features a purse of $45,000.
“The event just highlights anybody can play. Whether you’re able-bodied or have some disability, you’re able to play tennis,” Buschmann said. “You can set high goals if you want, but that’s why we have the letter players — all skill levels can have an opportunity to play.”
For the first time ever, USTA Wheelchair Championships will be held one week after the US Open concludes. Buschmann hopes some of the elite US Open participants will proceed to travel from New York to St. Louis to take part in the tournament here. And in what has turned out to be an Olympic year, several entrants could feasibly be the same ones who compete in the prestigious Paralympic Games this summer.
Additionally, the USTA Wheelchair Championships will feature a junior division this year. Buschmann believes this is perhaps only the second time that will be the case, as youth participants typically have played up in the open division.
“We’re really trying to promote and build our base of wheelchair players. We know they’re out there,” Buschmann said. “Wheelchair basketball is pretty popular. We’re trying to get more youth playing tennis because it’s just a great sport to complement basketball. We are making a concerted effort to host a junior division. We’re trying to build a circuit across the country and offer some scholarship dollars for juniors to play.”
It’s a terrific time for those interested in volunteering for the event to begin making preparations for this September. The Gateway Confluence Wheelchair Sports Foundation — a St. Louis-based nonprofit — hosts and promotes the USTA Wheelchair Championships and is in need of volunteers for the event.
Buschmann estimated a core group of about 50 to 75 volunteers is necessary to put on the tournament. Groups — especially high school tennis teams — participate in community service together and have fun bonding in the process, making volunteering an appealing option for local squads.
Individuals or groups interested in volunteering for the USTA Wheelchair Championships can get in contact with the volunteering committee by emailing email@example.com
“It is a big effort. It takes a village to support this event,” Buschmann said. “It’s a great experience. We definitely have volunteers who come every year because they love the players. You get to meet some great folks volunteering and/or the players themselves.
“And the players have such appreciation for the volunteers who help make the event happen. That is so gratifying as a volunteer. They’re able to help the players enhance their life by being able to play the sport.”
To learn more about the USTA Wheelchair Championships and volunteering opportunities, click here.
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