Pittsburgh HPTC launches blind and visually-impaired tennis program
The Highland Park Tennis Club (HPTC) is a 50l (c)(3), tax-exempt, public charity located in Pittsburgh, Pa., formed in 2002 when a small group of avid tennis players came together to promote interest in tennis by developing programs and activities in the local community. Since then, it has grown into the premier volunteer-based charitable tennis organization in the city of Pittsburgh, and perhaps even regionally as evidenced by its 2009 “Community Tennis Association” award from the USTA Middle States section and the USTA Allegheny Mountain District’s “Organization of the Year.”
The club is operated by a core of devoted, unpaid volunteers, while annual elections are held to select officers. In collaboration with the city of Pittsburgh, the HPTC uses outdoor hard courts at 6341 Stanton Ave. as its home courts for tournaments and other events. HPTC is proud to have a multicultural membership that includes diverse social economic groups and various communities in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas.
The club’s mission is to promote and develop the growth of tennis in Pittsburgh’s multi-cultural community, increase tennis participation, support tennis programming and foster diversity, and use tennis as a means to develop and maintain physical and mental wellness. Beginning last year, the HPTC wanted to expand their instruction and reach by adding adaptive tennis to its well-established free summer clinic. On Sept. 1, 2019, HPTC hosted the first blind and visually-impaired tennis clinic in Pittsburgh. HPTC teamed up with Envision Blind Sports, Slippery Rock University, and Pittsburgh Tennis League to introduce the sport to local blind/VI athletes.
The event drew more than a combined 150 blind and visually-impaired children and spectators. Spectators experienced how the sport was played by using blacked-out goggles provided by Envision. The clinic was extensively covered in both local television and newspapers. That coverage resulted in a number of local and national organizations reaching out to HPTC to discuss expanding the sport nationally.
For HPTC, Sept. 1, 2019 was just the starting point. The pilot paved the way for many different opportunities. Starting in May 2021, HPTC plans to hold a six-week progressive clinic for blind and visually-impaired children and adults. HPTC will develop and implement curriculum for the clinic, and will hold at least one tournament following the completion of the clinic. HPTC hopes to partner with other tennis communities across the country to grow blind/VI tennis. Holding national tournaments and creating local league play are long-term goals, as is showcasing blind/VI tennis at the US Open.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, HPTC was unable to offer its annual free summer tennis clinic, nor was it able to kick-start its new free blind/VI tennis clinic.
Exploring different options to stay current during these difficult times, HPTC, as many, did several of its events virtually, offering free virtual tennis lessons each week and trying the first-ever virtual tennis tournament.
The virtual tennis tournament has been developed as an event that HPTC is going to offer during the winter months when outdoor play is unavailable. A virtual tournament would offer bracket play to those who enter using Zoom or Google Meet, and players will have a list of challenge to complete in each round. These challenges include fun tennis skills that can be completed at-home and individually. Just like any other tournament, competitors will be randomly placed in the player’s bracket with a draw size determined by number of entries. When the bracket is made, it will be published with the scheduled times when competitors must log onto Zoom for their challenge. Each round of the tournament will come with a new challenge that will need to be completed with their opponent on the Zoom call. The tournament director will oversee the match and determine a winner. The winner will move on to the next round, and this will continue until there is only one winner.
Some of the challenges include challenges that have fun twist to keep players entertained. Each round will have a best two-out-of-three "set" format. The first set will focus on agility, while the second set will focus on racquet and ball skill.
If a third set is needed, the tournament director will add a fun-fact question to test the mind. The first competitor to complete the challenge will win the set.
Examples of the challenge can be found below. These are simply examples and the tournament director has the discretion to add or change them to suit their needs.
Round of 64
64 high-knees, or modified as a march in place. 100 ball bounces with racquet on the ground. If the competitor loses the ball, they must start over.
Round of 32
32 toe-taps, followed by bouncing the ball in the air on the racquet 100 times without dropping. If the competitor drops the ball, they must start over.
Round of 16
16 running line touches, followed by using two racquets to bounce a ball back and forth 100 times without dropping. If the competitor drops the ball, they must start over.
Round of 8
8 squats, 8 jumping jacks, 88 quick-feet, followed by bouncing the ball on the edge of the racquet 50 times without dropping. If the competitor drops the ball, they must start over.
4 of something, 4 of something, 4 of something, 44 of something, followed by 50 volleys off a wall without dropping. If the competitor drops the ball, they must start over.