Standing adaptive tennis returns to Texas, on the court and in the meeting room

Joyce Dreslin | July 28, 2023

International and national stand-up tennis tournaments started in Houston in 2016 and were moving along in popularity and participation when the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything, including everything tennis, to a screeching halt. But Cindy Benzon, USTA Texas’ staff member in charge of adaptive and wheelchair tennis, served notice in December that stand-up tennis is back. 


The beautiful Styslinger/Altec Tennis Complex at SMU in Dallas hosted an international field of stand-up adaptive players last December and will do so again from Dec. 8-10, 2023. Athletes of all ages with a myriad physical disabilities are welcome to play the tournament, which is expected to take advantage of the increasing interest of young people and again have a “juniors draw,” as well as the usual draws for adults with “above the knee” and “below the knee” disabilities. 

The events returned in style last year with local television coverage, interviews, a visit from John Isner–who trains at the facility–and one viral tweet.


Benzon reports that interest in standing adaptive tournaments is on the rise, growing significantly across the world and in the USTA sections. The goal of the organizers and the players is to make standing adaptive tennis a Paralympic sport to be known as para-standing tennis. The International Tennis Federation is participating in talks to that effect. 


One of the junior “stars” of the previous Texas tournament says he expects to play again this year. That’s 15-year-old Will Butts of Tyler, Texas who describes himself as a “quadruple amputee” because he is missing pieces of all four limbs, or “perhaps a bilateral amputee,” because he is missing both legs and uses “blades” to play on. As he glides across the court in every direction, one doesn’t necessarily notice that he is also using Ace bandages to hold the racquet because of his missing fingers. All done very effectively.


But Butts’ involvement in adaptive tennis goes beyond his role as a tournament- and high-school player. One might be even more impressed that at the recent annual meeting of the USTA Texas committees, he had a seat at the table with the Texas Adaptive Tennis Committee. Over the years, the committee has often had an adaptive athlete or two, but Butts is the first teenage member–and might be one of the few ever under age 40. 


Benzon says she recommended he apply because the Texas section wants to grow standing adaptive tennis, “and Will’s a great kid who knows a lot of other kids” who are willing to join the cause. Committee chair Tina Trevino of Laredo, Texas, says kids want to be part of the game; they want to be included, they know where to find other kids, how they think, what their needs and challenges are. 


“They can share what they feel is needed, and volunteers can take their ideas, with players by their side, to meet goals,” Trevino adds. “In fact, most of the committee members are active adaptive players, and members knowledgeable by experience make for a productive group.”

Butts says he wants to promote that the opportunity to play tennis is there for other kids with disabilities. He says he does that purely by showing up.


“Oh, if he can do it, I can too.”

Photo courtesy of the USTA National Adaptive Tennis Committee.

Butts’ mother, Katie–who says she’s a “country club league player” and who her son credits with encouraging him to play–attended the committee meeting with him, “because he doesn’t yet drive, and he needed a ride to attend.” She reports that she was amazed and astounded that her child was participating and even that “adults were deferring to his opinions.”  


Both mother and son told the story of how Butts came home from school in seventh grade two years ago, announced that he was going to be on the school tennis team, and that practice started the next day. She said she thought maybe 12 hours’ notice was cutting it a little close, as there wasn’t time to go to Florida and be fitted for the necessary prostheses. Instead, she took him to the local Walgreens, and they walked up and down the aisles looking for solutions so he could hold the racquet. That’s when they came up with Ace bandages and a thumb brace. It’s worked ever since, and worked well.

Butts isn’t sure where in life tennis will take him–remember, he’s only 15–but he knows it has brought him lots of new friends, made him more confident, and has increased his eye-hand coordination. Right now, that’s good enough for him … and for the sport of standing adaptive tennis, too.


Joyce Dreslin is a member of the USTA's national adaptive tennis committtee.

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