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ACEing Autism launches in Washington, D.C.

USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee | November 01, 2021

With picture-perfect weather and on beautiful blue and green courts, eight children with autism spectrum disorder came for their first tennis lesson with ACEing Autism’s Washington, D.C. program held at the William Fitzgerald Tennis Center in September.


Executive director Richard Spurling was on hand during the program's first clinic on Sept. 25, along with Justin Belisario, director of program operations, officially launching a chapter of ACEing Autism in the nation’s capital. Program directors Lynn Gertzog and Rachel Bloch previously ran an ACEing Autism program at the Wheaton Indoor Tennis Center in Wheaton, Md. but had to stop as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Bloch and Gertzog nonetheless saw the positive impact that this program had on children with autism and their families, and wanted to try to get it going again safely at an outdoor venue.


In addition, Bloch is a coach for the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF), a USTA Foundation National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter which runs classes at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center, and both WTEF and Ronnie Goodall, its West Campus programs manager, jumped at the chance to be proud supporters of ACEing Autism.


With 80 locations across the country, ACEing Autism is an adaptive program created for children with autism to grow, develop and benefit from social connections and fitness through affordable tennis programming.


“It is the first program in D.C. and it was a beautiful setting for our program to be on the stadium court at the Tennis Center, which is also the home of the Citi Open,” said Spurling. “In addition, we are very thankful to have a partnership with the Parks and Recreation District.”

Both classes are full, serving 16 kids total, ranging in age from 5 to 16. The classes would not be possible without volunteers assisting the participants one-on-one as needed. The volunteers are a diverse group—some attend local high schools while others are older adults— but what they all have in common is a passion for tennis and a desire to help children of differing abilities. 


The program directors are excited to be back, and even more excited to see how quickly the kids are connecting with their partners, getting exercise, engaging in tennis skills and playing group games. For its next steps, ACEing Autism's Washington D.C. program hopes to find a venue to hold indoor classes over the winter and is looking forward to the outdoor session returning to the William Fitzgerald facility in the spring.


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