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Blind, Wheelchair Students Play Tennis Through USTA Florida Grants

March 17, 2011 11:35 AM
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(photo courtesy ITA and Mike Mullen)
The Miami-Dade Parks Disability Services department and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Fla., are introducing students to 10 and Under Tennis featuring the QuickStart play format following grants from USTA Florida's "Share the Love" $750,000 initiative.

Miami-Dade Parks Disability Services received $5,000 for 10 and Under Tennis equipment to start the Junior Tennis Wheelchair program for children age 8 and older, and to provide new children's sport wheelchairs.

"Sports partners such as the USTA Florida are vital to Miami-Dade Parks' efforts to provide fun and inclusive recreational opportunities for children with disabilities in our community," said MDPR Disability Services Manager Lucy Binhack. "Accessible-sports programs, such as our Junior Wheelchair Tennis program gives children who use wheelchairs the tools and motivation to achieve their own personal best, resulting in improved health, fitness and self-esteem."

The program kicks off April 9, and will be held every Saturday from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Tamiami Tennis Center in Miami, utilizing QuickStart Tennis equipment.

USTA 10 and Under Tennis featuring the QuickStart play format is designed for children featuring smaller court sizes, racquet sizes, foam and low-compression balls, a simple scoring system, and net heights adjusted to ease kids into the sport. Similar mini-tennis formats have long been popular in Europe, where current stars such as Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters first learned the game with age-adjusted racquets, balls and court sizes. To see a video of 10 and Under Tennis in action go to: http://10andundertennis.usta.com.

Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation is the third largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 263 parks and more than 12,848 acres of land, including the Crandon Tennis Center, home of the Sony Ericsson Open professional tennis tournament. For more info go to www.miamidade.gov/parks, or call (305) 365-6706.

The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind received a $1,800 grant for QuickStart Tennis equipment and funding to paint permanent QuickStart lines to create mini-courts for students.

Performers Ray Charles and jazz pianist Marcus Roberts are alumni of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, which had a first entering class of 62 students in 1892, and is today the largest school of its type in the United States with 47 buildings on 72 acres of land.

"Over the past several years, ours' and many other schools have been faced with financial challenges," said Mary Ellen Stewart, physical education and health teacher. "Many of our students come from lower-income families, and they might never be exposed to the sport of tennis, if not from our PE program. However, as you know, traditional tennis is difficult to teach younger students, so the QuickStart program will be wonderful for our elementary teaching program to expose these students at an earlier age. Hopefully students will develop an interest and desire to continue in the sport, become involved in extracurricular activities and join the FSDB tennis team."

Fellow physical education and health teacher Keith Young says the school plans to implement unique strategies for teaching tennis to blind students.

"We have some students who have enough vision to play QuickStart Tennis, we may have to repaint the balls or modify the size," Young said. "For our low-vision or totals, I'm looking at designing a tether-type platform that rotates and has balls attached at different heights so those students can hit the ball. I even thought of using the platform and tethering the ball to the student's leg so it can be returned. There are other ideas for using QuickStart Tennis, but these projects will have to wait until the courts are finished."

Young, Stewart and fellow staffers attended a USTA Florida QuickStart Workshop, where a translator was present to assist deaf staff members.

"Having an interpreter from FSDB was very helpful, along with our PE staff who can sign very well," Young said. "Our deaf staff members actually picked up the drills and concepts very quickly."

USTA Florida annually directs 90% of member dollars back into the community to support tennis programs and projects throughout Florida. USTA Florida's $750,000 "Share the Love" grant program helps fund tennis programs and projects throughout Florida communities during challenging economic times.
 
"It is with the annual membership dues from USTA Florida members that we are able to offer these community program grants," said USTA Florida Director of Community Tennis Linda Curtis. "USTA membership does really make a difference in tennis in the Florida community."
 

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