Adaptive Tennis National Championships returns to USTA National Campus in 2022

Victoria Chiesa | December 12, 2022

It was a comeback worth waiting for: In November, the Adaptive Tennis National Championships returned to the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. for the first time since 2019, and history was made in the process. 


After robust qualifying events were held around the country leading up to the grand finale from Nov. 4-6, competitors from eight USTA sections traveled to Orlando to compete in unified doubles, which features one adaptive player and one unified partner. 


"An event like this is life-changing for many of the athletes," Marcy Hirschberg, the chair of the USTA's national adaptive tennis committee said. "They look forward to this, they couldn't be more excited, and it gives them a chance to feel like everybody else and have a great tournament experience compete, but also to build relationships all over the country."


Passionate volunteers like Hirschberg are crucial to the success of an adaptive tennis event, and Orlando was no different. In addition to her role as chair of the national adaptive tennis comittee, she's also been a unified partner for nearly 25 years locally in Atlanta with the Special Pops Tennis organization—one of nearly 350 adaptive tennis organizations registered with the USTA nationwide.


"It's your job as the tennis player to play to the level of the adaptive athletes and make sure that they have a successful, fun and competitive experience," Hirschberg said.


"At the Adaptive Tennis National Championships, all kind of entities come together and that's what's so special about this event. We work with all the USTA sections, D&I [diversity and inclusion] staff many local programs and the committee to make this a success."

For local professionals including Cee Jai Jones, the director of diversity, NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) and grants for USTA Southern, the enhanced collaboration between national and section staff for 2022 that Hirschberg described helped keep the athletes' experience at the forefront.


"The 2022 National Adaptive Tennis Championships means everything," Jones said. "I was fortunate to be here for the 2019 nationals, and what a joy that was. But to have a hiatus of about three years before the next one, and then to see some of the athletes that did participate three years ago back, they were hungry for this opportunity. This is something that really surpasses the imagination for a lot of players that are adaptive, who would love to have this opportunity.

"To be in this environment with others that, number one, care for them, who are going to be on the court, playing with them, having fun, and then for their parents and for their support systems to see that this is a possibility, [is] awesome."


Champions were crowned in four playing divisions at the close of three days of fun and good-spirited play. Hirschberg and her playing partner, Lawton Kugler, took home victory for USTA Southern in Division 3. They were joined by Brittany Tagliareni and John Richards, representing USTA Florida, who were Division 1 champions; Kevin Olin and Tyler Carroll, also of the Southern section, in Division 2; and Mark Segerman and Jim Lawson, of USTA New England, the winners of Division 4. 


But the action on the court was only part of the story of the weekend. USTA national staff also held a workshop to introduce the first-ever adaptive tennis cirriculum, which will support providers around the country as they seek to make the sport of tennis more inclusive for all.


The release of this game-changing cirriculum was the culmination of two years' worth of work by many in the USTA and outside of it, including Florida's Lisa Pugliese-LaCroix. Six years ago, Pugliese-LaCroix founded Love Serving Autism, and has since made adaptive tennis her life's work. With 30 Florida-based chapters and six in other states, the non-profit currently provides specialized, therapeutic tennis instruction to 575 children and 60 adults with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental challenges.


"This curriculum is specifically for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which serves a large population in adaptive tennis," Pugliese-LaCroix, the 2022 winner of the USTA's Eve Kraft Award for her services to adaptive tennis, said. "About 90% of our registered adaptive programs are teaching this demographic.


"I think this curriculum is incredible because now coaches have access to a resource to be able to teach adaptive athletes and maybe to try something new as a coach for the first time. I've met many coaches in Florida who don't have this level of experience, and now they have a resource to use to both teach adaptive programming, and to be more inclusive in their classes.


"I'm thankful to the USTA for the opportunity to bring athletes here and to publish this curriculum so that coaches now have access to teaching individuals that have special needs ... I think that will change a lot in the industry."


All photos by Doug DeFelice/USTA.

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