University of Alabama unveils first-of-its-kind wheelchair tennis facility
The standard-bearer for collegiate wheelchair tennis has raised the bar once more. Earlier this month, the University of Alabama unveiled its new Parker-Haun Tennis Facility, revitalizing the home of its championshipship intercollegiate wheelchair tennis team.
The facility came to be with the financial support of Tim and Cathy Parker of the Tuscaloosa-based Parker Towing Company, Charlie and Alice Haun, nearly two dozen other donors, and the USTA’s facility team led by Tim Cass and Scott Treibly, as a result of the need for a permanent, more accessible space adjacent to the dozen tennis courts that the team calls home. The tennis facility is the only one of its kind for collegiate adaptive athletes in the country.
Previously, head coach Evan Enquist and the team shared office and locker room space inside Stran-Hardin Arena, the flagship adaptive athletic facility on campus, as well as a shared storage shed—which Enquist said posed difficulties for his athletes to access due to its small size, steep angles and elevated entry point—and an accessible portable toilet that was permanently stationed for public use at the courts. The new 5,400-square-foot space houses locker rooms, a team lounge and meeting space, an athletic trainer’s room and offices for Enquist and his staff, which includes two-time Paralympian Shelby Baron, and public restrooms.
Story continues below photo gallery. Photo credit (1-4): Mary Kathryn Carpenter, Strategic Communications, The University of Alabama
In addition to being the home of Alabama’s wheelchair tennis team, the facility is also utilized by Alabama’s Tennis on Campus club team, for kinesiology courses, and is open to both the university and surrounding community at large for recreational play. Enquist, who doubles as the faculty advisor for Tennis on Campus, says that more than 100 students take part in Tennis on Campus at Alabama, and estimates that a further 100-plus enroll in tennis for course credit each year. Area residents can also pay a fee to access the courts and the university’s other recreation facilities as a member or a guest, and the facility has also been utilized as a secondary location for the Crimson Tide’s NCAA programs.
“We had the idea that if we were going to build a facility, it was going to be standalone and self-sufficient,” Enquist said. “It’s a pretty nice community hub. The feedback has been great. They know how hard the athletes train and to have an accessible facility that was built for these players with accessible amenities, I think they're just really excited for us.
“But also, we’ve elevated this tennis court facility that was already very nice. It’s got public, permanent bathrooms. We have a huge front porch and back porch that are all accessible by the public. It just elevated one of our facilities in town that everyone's excited to now play at.”
In establishing itself at the premier intercollegiate wheelchair tennis program in the country, Alabama has won six team titles at the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Championships in the last eight years, and also hosts the Alabama Open on the ITF/UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour. In addition to hosting competition, the team also plans to leverage the facility for its wheelchair tennis clinics for local children in the offseason, which, according to UA adaptive athletic director Brent Hardin, will help to grow the game into the next generation and beyond.
“Once people see our athletes and what we’re doing, they want to get involved. They want to help, and they do, and it makes such a difference,” Hardin said in a university media release. “We have grants for clinics in the community before and after our season. We are able to put kids in specialized chairs and we teach them about wheelchair tennis. We’ll be able to do a much better job of that. We’ll also expand access to other kids with disabilities in the state of Alabama who want to learn about wheelchair tennis.”
While the new facility was built in less than a year, it’s a brick-and-mortar representation of the long-term investment that the USTA, which contributed $10,000 to the project, has made to bolster wheelchair tennis in the United States. In addition to the financial commitment, Enquist says Cass and Treibly served as valuable advisers throughout the process, and that other universities have the tools at their disposal to follow Alabama's lead and continue that growth.
“This again pushes the boundaries and advances the mission that I think our program embodies and that we hope other programs embody. We want to give our athletes the same experience as any other able-bodied collegiate athlete on campus,” Enquist said.
“Part of that has always been elevating the training, elevating the coaching, elevating the scholarship, elevating the uniforms and the presence on campus. Our wheelchair basketball program has its own facility, now our wheelchair tennis program has its own. I think it just, hopefully, sets the bar for other campuses to know that, ‘Hey, this is possible.’
“Our president made this happen for us, for the university. He was at the ribbon-cutting, the deans were there and student life was there. Everyone was on board and excited about the mission. If the university’s administration is behind you, you can make big things possible. That's what we have at Alabama. In the adapted sports world, they're fully aware of what we're up to. They're fully aware of what Alabama's doing and how wheelchair tennis is really expanding faster than any other adapted sport right now. What's exciting is hearing the able-bodied world's reaction to it.
“I think getting the word out, having the college presidents, having the athletic programs realize the potential and how they, if they partner up, if they invest, could make this process even happen faster for an adapted sports program, I think that's the part that really excites me.”