Two dozen wheelchair athletes hit the courts this past weekend, showing that tennis is one sport that’s for everyone.
The Delaware Wheelchair Tennis Championships held at DuPont Country Club attracted some of the nation’s very best. Competitors traveled from as far as West Virginia, Maine, Rhodes Island and New Hampshire – 10 states in all.
The athletes played some amazing tennis. But it was also a big weekend for the 50 volunteers who often arrive with an uncertainty about what they will experience.
“Volunteers invariably are surprised and amazed by how much running they will do as a ball person. But they soon find that the players are athletes and, in many cases, play the sport better using a wheelchair than they do standing up,” said Kathryn Herel, director of the Wheelchair Tennis Program of Delaware (WTP of DE).
Herel has been running the program for years, and she has no trouble making sure volunteers stay busy. “I think they often have an ‘ah ha’ moment of appreciation for their own situation and also quickly realize that ability has no limits.”
Virtually all of the members of the Goldey-Beacom College women’s tennis team — one with a fractured foot! — pitched in this year as volunteers. Coach Troy Donato said the day was inspirational. “Watching the wheelchair tennis reminded us that we can do anything we put our minds to.”
Players have a variety of choices of tournaments. But many return to the Delaware Championships because it has a reputation for being a superior tennis experience where players are recognized for their athleticism and are treated with the same courtesies and respect as any athletic competition. Herel says players enjoy the opportunity to develop their tennis skills and form friendships with players and volunteers alike.
Delaware’s Wheelchair Championships are one of the few such tournaments played on clay courts and at such a large venue. Experienced ball persons, friendly volunteers, plenty of snacks and meals for players and their support teams, prize money, travel stipends, USTA officials on site – even the good-looking sweatshirts – make the WTP of DE event an exceptional one.
The WTP of DE now has the support of the Delaware Tennis Foundation, DuPont Country Club, Katie Kirlin Fund, USTA Middle States and the Women’s Tennis Club of NCC. Their support allows the tournament to be held annually, seek player incentives and explore other ways to promote player development.
“It’s really a fabulous experience. Each year we see some new faces and old friends. We have players and volunteers who have known each other for over 20 years,” said Herel.
Photography by Karen Brooks