Adaptive Tennis Spotlight: Cheyenne Parks & Recreation
With more public lands than public courts, growing tennis in Wyoming requires a good deal of adaptability.
Fortunately for the city of Cheyenne, Josh Cossitt, the director of tennis for Cheyenne Parks and Recreation and Cheyenne South H.S. tennis coach, is full of innovative and ingenious ideas.
In 2017, Cossitt was approached by a young aspiring high school player named Shannon Williams. She was born with Thrombocytopenia absent radius (TAR) syndrome, a rare genetic condition characterized by the absence of a bone called the radius in each forearm, short stature, and a blood disorder that makes clotting difficult. Williams was looking for a sport to play but expressed that those requiring height and reach (i.e. basketball and volleyball) or physical contact (i.e. soccer) would not work well for her.
Cossitt had no adaptive teaching experience but he liked the high schooler's attitude, so he did what he could to make tennis the sport that she could play. This included reaching out to Trent Aaron with Natural Tennis of San Diego to create a special two-handled racquet at angles especially created for her hand positions. The grips were custom-made via 3D printing.
Fast forward a year or more and Williams is playing on her high school team and using the confidence tennis has given her to participate in a leadership program to mentor and welcome new students. In 2019, she also received the only junior award that USTA Intermountain presents for her impact on the game and her spirit.
In the meantime, luck came into play with a couple of pediatric physical therapists who just happened to be very good tennis players. Kacie Pugel and Tori Rosenthal were willing to help Cossitt, and they knew of other children to join Williams to round out an adaptive program. The disabilities of the group are many and varied, but the professionals know what the players can do safely, and how to develop drills and games so that they can succeed within their capabilities.
Support has come from high-performance juniors helping run the program, the parents, and donated court time from the Cheyenne Parks Department in the summer and the Frontier Park Family Tennis Center--adapted from a former rodeo arena--in the winter. Cossitt has enough enthusiastic volunteers for a 1:1 student-to-teacher ratio.
What he now knows about introducing tennis to those with disabilities is that by adapting, he did something right because these athletes are excited to come play every week. In addition, the college-age volunteers who previously helped, come back on school breaks and say how much their former students have all improved.
“It just kind of happened,” said Cossitt. “It took circumstances, luck, passion, and a lot of support from different sources to get it going and thriving.”
The tennis community in Wyoming may be small but it is mighty and filled with passionate people who are willing to be creative and resourceful to make tennis programs successful.