"The game we teach is tennis; the lessons learned are real-life." When Special Pops Tennis was formed 10 years ago, we had a clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish: tennis instruction and equipment free of charge for people with intellectual disabilities from beginners to advanced players, a place to socialize and have fun, a tennis league and an annual tournament. But we never dreamed that we would be where we find ourselves today:
+ 14 training sites in metro Atlanta serving over 700 athletes that are gathering places
to socialize and exchange information
+ A network of 600+ volunteers who serve as partners, umpires, chaperones, mentors and in a myriad of roles on and off the tennis court
+ Friendships between volunteers and athletes that extend beyond the tennis court
+ Friendships across state lines as athletes compete in tournaments outside Georgia
+ Growing interest in our athletes' nutrition and fitness
+ A high school club started by two teen volunteers to match student athletes with Special Olympics adaptive sports programs
+ Support from local businesses, civic groups, community groups, and private clubs
that extends to their members' hands-on involvement in our programs
+ Requests for help starting adaptive tennis programs beyond Atlanta and outside Georgia.
Play tennis. Make Friends. Live Life! Perhaps nothing now expresses the essence of Special Pops Tennis better than this three-pronged statement that represents a circle of leanring that never ends when a person is part of Special Pops Tennis. Yes, we're still interested in making sure our athletes understand how to hit a backhand correctly. But we are more concerned that they also understand how to interact and respect themselves and others.
At the end of our first decade, our athletes are becoming part of their communities, not by virtue of their special needs but by demonstrating their ability to learn new skills, be part of a team, handle competition, travel away from home, make friends, and have fun - the important life lessons that playing a lifetime sport teaches us all.
All of us at Special Pops Tennis have been moved by the courage and commitment of our athletes as they face and overcome challenges. A gift that reflects their commitment will give us a powerful push toward continued sucess in the decade ahead.