Buddy Up Athletes Make Debut  at US Open 

USTA Adaptive Tennis Committee | November 01, 2018

Buddy Up Tennis, an athletic companionship program, which was first started ten years ago on a pee-wee court in Columbus, Ohio, made it to the greatest center court in the world, Arthur Ashe Stadium, at the 2018 US Open. This success story began because three-year-old Will Gibson with Down syndrome wanted to play tennis like his older brother, and their mother couldn’t find a program for him. So they began Buddy Up Tennis, where each Down syndrome athlete is assigned a “buddy” to help play, learn life skills and fitness, give emotional support, companionship and instill confidence. Buddy Up saw tremendous success, and today has grown to 21 chapters in 10 states. As the participants of Buddy Up say: “It’s much more than just tennis.”  


At the US Open, 17 athletes, six buddies and three coaches from some of those chapters in Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania, became the equivalent of rock stars as camera operators followed them around, interviews were asked for, and they saw themselves on the nightly television news. 


The Buddy Up athletes were invited to New York to give an on-court demonstration as part of USTA Net Generation, but only the night before did they find out about their center court assignment. 


To welcome the Buddy Up athletes, the USTA surprised the group with a video with welcoming messages from the likes of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Juan DelPotro, Andy Murray and Madison Keys.  It was then that there was an announcement made that caused many in the group to burst into tears: they were going to be playing on center court in Arthur Ashe Stadium!


It turned out to be a life-changing weekend and well worth all the hours the parents and organizers put into obtaining sponsors and arranging logistics so that it could happen. Will Gibson even got to participate in the coin toss for a Madison Keys’ match. But most of all, the Buddy Up athletes showed the world the love and joy that can come about when there is inclusiveness of all those who want to play tennis. 






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