June 6th, 2017

USTA Florida, Special Olympics Florida Team-up for State Summer Games at Disney

General News Charity Event Adult Tennis News

“Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Athletes reciting the Special Olympics oath kicked off the 45th Special Olympic Florida State Summer Games last week at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, where USTA Florida staff and volunteers assisted the approximately 150 Special Olympics athletes participating in the tennis event.

“[Volunteer] Cindy Harkins has been our ambassador working with Special Olympics Florida in our partnership to grow state-wide participation to 5,000 athletes,” said USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth. “She volunteered to be the tournament director, and has worked hard to make the game more accessible to the athletes using the 36- and 60-foot courts and the red, orange and green balls.”

Athletes participated in a skills event and varied levels of red, orange, green, and yellow-ball match play.

“Everyone was very impressed with the official court set-up,” said Harkins, who with the help of volunteers used tacked-down lines and portable nets to set up the smaller courts. “USTA Florida gave each athlete a tennis towel to commemorate the event, and the players loved them. USTA Florida staff and volunteers were joined by five outstanding USTA-certified officials who volunteered their expert services for the weekend, plus nine additional local pros and tennis enthusiasts volunteering as skills-event leaders and on-court monitors and scorekeepers. Plus an additional 40 local volunteers recruited by Disney assisted as ball persons, scorekeepers, awards tabulators and errand runners.”

USTA Florida has partnered with Special Olympics-Florida to provide local training, to make recommendations to align the Special Olympics tennis format and rules with USTA guidelines, and to operate the Summer Games.

“It has been a positive experience for all involved, and the recommended changes have been enthusiastically received,” Harkins said.

In 2014, USTA Florida and the USTA Florida Section Foundation announced the landmark three-way agreement with Special Olympics Florida to provide more tennis play opportunities to athletes in Florida. The formal agreement has built on the existing support that USTA Florida and its charitable arm have provided to local Special Olympics programs by offering free 10 and Under Tennis workshops, grants, and other resources to providers that offer tennis programs to Special Olympics athletes.

“USTA Florida is a tremendous partner, and we are grateful for their participation in the recent State Summer Games and for their continuing support in our statewide training programs,” said Sherry Wheelock, president and CEO of Special Olympics Florida. “Their officiating enhances the competition experience for our athletes by bringing the highest level of professionalism and sportsmanship.”

Akin Joseph, vice president of operations for Special Olympics Florida, said the results of USTA Florida-conducted trainings earlier in the year were evident, and participants displayed higher engagement levels and better technique.

“The partnership between Special Olympics Florida and USTA Florida has greatly changed tennis for Special Olympic Florida athletes,” Joseph said. “Adaptive equipment coupled with trainings, conducted at the Lake Nona USTA National Campus, has created more excitement for the organization.”

The two-day event closed at the Olympic Village where a dinner, closing ceremonies and the Victory Dance here hosted. For full results from the tennis event go to tennislink.usta.com/Tournaments/TournamentHome/Tournament.aspx?T=205266.

Special Olympics Florida is part of an international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Special Olympics offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round training and competition in 30 Olympic-type summer and winter sports. The next Special Olympics Summer World Games, featuring tennis, is scheduled for 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

For more information on Special Olympics in Florida visit www.specialolympicsflorida.org.