Adaptive tennis program proves tennis is about more than points, games and matches

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Tennis isn’t always about points, games and matches.

That’s one of the reasons Warren Luce, executive director of the Steamboat Tennis Association, sat down with Loretta Conway, director of business development at the Tennis Center at Steamboat, for a discussion a few years ago. The two leaders of the tennis community came up with the idea for a free youth adaptive tennis clinic — a program that is more about inclusion than the final score.

“It’s so important for kids with disabilities to do the same things as other kids,” said Lisa Lorenz, executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program. “It’s our mission, our goal, to have our kids engage in all the activities they want to be involved with. … Instead of a win-win, it’s a love-love.”

The first clinic was held two years ago, and now, in it’s third year, the program is up and running strong, with clinics held in the spring and fall each year. The next clinics are free, and the next one will be at 10 a.m. Sept. 22.

Lorenz said the Yampa Valley Autism Program became involved with the adaptive tennis program after receiving a call a few years back asking if she would spread the word and find families interested in taking part. Lorenz not only spread the word, but also offered coaching advice and a training session for coaches and volunteers who came out to help with the clinics.

Her group also helped get players registered and assisted with other details for the tennis program. Conway said she considers the Yampa Valley Autism Program a partner in the clinics.

“We wanted to reach more children with autism,” Conway said. “There have been studies that show that tennis can help children dealing with autism in a big way.”

The clinics are open to anyone facing a physical or cognitive challenge, and all the participants need when they show up is a serviceable pair of tennis shoes. The program is funded by the Steamboat Tennis Association, and the Tennis Center offers discounted court time.

Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports, or STARS, also collaborates, offering help with coaching and spreading the word to make the clinics a success. The clinics are set up in stations that introduce the game of tennis to participants. Luce said it's set up so that participants can move at their own pace, and the activities can be matched to the participants' abilities.

The first clinic is set for April 22 and will be followed by events April 29, May 13 and May 20. All the clinics begin at 10 a.m. at the Tennis Center.

“We set up small nets and use foam balls,” Luce said. “Our goal is to have one volunteer for every participant, so they will get a lot of individual attention.”

Luce said the event is always in need of volunteers and encourages those interested to call the Tennis Center. He said the event is organized to have one volunteer, to one participant because he believes that ratio promotes the most positive outcome. He said the players vary in terms of ability and face a wide range of physical and cognitive circumstances.

But, he added, the great thing about these clinics is that the disabilities can’t get in the way of what really matters. Conway, who has run outreach programs in other places, agrees.

“I still remember the first clinic we held. We had 12 participants, and it was pretty easy to see that they didn’t want to be there. They were scared to give tennis a try,” Conway said. “But, after a couple of times playing, they were running around with smiles on their faces. … They were just having the best time. It was great, because these were the same kids that had been scared to death to come in, and now, they were at home — so that was pretty awesome.”

The Yampa Valley Autism Program provides resources and direct services to individuals and families living with autism or other disorders to cultivate their abilities and maximize quality of life.

STARS' mission is to empower and enrich lives through adaptive recreational activities.

Both groups have been supportive of the tennis program since it began, and it continues to prove the game of tennis is about a lot more than points, games and matches.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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