This past weekend nearly 200 athletes, 50 coaches, and over 200 volunteers from across the state gathered to compete and help in the annual Special Olympics State Tennis Championships, held at the USTA National Campus. The participants showed just how much tennis meant to them and that it isn’t all about winning but having fun playing the sport.
On every court you could find happiness, joy, and laughter. Tournament Director, Will Speed, mentioned how great it was to see everyone out on the courts.
“The energy out here is fantastic, you have tons of volunteers, athletes, parents, and coaches,” Speed said. “Even though it’s a competition, they’re still here to encourage each other, bring positivity to the sport and build up everybody’s skill level.”
Christopher Vinci just got involved with the game last year and loves to be out there playing. When asked about his favorite part of participating in the Florida Special Olympics, Vinci said, “playing with and getting to meet other people.”
Red ball player, Daniel Jordan told us that tennis has allowed him to be active and the Special Olympics events are always a blast. He’s been competing for 19 years and comes back because “it’s fun, it’s a great workout, and great cardio for all athletes of any kind.”
Another athlete, Thomas Shervington’s favorite tennis memory is from the Special Olympics State Games. “Last year, I took a gold medal, my first-ever in tennis singles,” Thomas recalled.
The environment was focused on fun as the outcome of the match didn’t matter, but being able to enjoy competing with other people did.
While these players brought the positivity, there were also loads of coaches and volunteers that were doing the same.
One coach, Sharon Holloway, recently got involved with Special Olympics Tennis back in 2020 and said it’s one of the most rewarding things ever.
“After a long day, you come out here and it’s fun. The athletes inspire you to push harder because you know they’re giving their personal best,” Holloway recalled. “I love it, the State Games are some of my favorite things to do because you get to see everyone in their own element.”
Another coach, Tom Shervington, said it’s all about the athletes and making sure they are setup to succeed. “I’ve taken little kids, who can barely hold a racket and then next thing you know they’re competing at state championships,” Tom said. “It’s for the athletes, but it’s actually to make them better, not me.”
Tanya Bartlett got involved with coaching and volunteering to support her son RaHeem and others who participate in the Special Olympics.
“Just being there to cheer them on and watch their faces. Win or lose they’re all good sports and I love it,” Bartlett said. As a parent, it can be extremely moving and she shared how much it means to see her son compete at these events. “Watching the ability of doing things that he’s not used to doing, things that’s he’s never done before, and watching his growth.”
The Special Olympics have touched many lives and athlete Cyrus Buker had nothing but good things to say about it. “Get involved, it’s a great program, we need more volunteers and more coaches, please get involved.”
The game of tennis brings community together and Will Speed reiterated that when looking back at the tournament. “Tennis is a sport for everybody, it doesn’t matter your level of abilities or disabilities, tennis is for all.”
If you want to learn more about Adaptive Tennis, visit our website at www.ustaflorida.com/in-the-community/adaptive-and-wheelchair/.