Thursday, May 26, 2011

Special Pops Tennis and the Georgia Special Olympics

Last weekend I participated in the Special Olympics Georgia State Games at Emory University as an umpire.  It was a very rewarding experience, made possible by Special Pops Tennis.

While reading this month’s Inside Tennis Magazine, I came across an article about Special Pops.  I’d been looking for a volunteer opportunity that would enable me to utilize whatever “special” talents I had for others, and this seemed like just such a program.  According to their website:

"Special Populations Tennis Program, Inc. (Special Pops) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that offers an adaptive tennis program specifically designed to share the lifetime sport of tennis with children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Programs offered free of charge to all skill levels, including those who have never played, include year-round tennis instruction, league play and tournament competition.

An equally important aspect of our program is the opportunity it offers these special athletes to build their self-confidence and life skills through social interaction with each other and the many dedicated volunteers who run our programs."

So, I signed up as a volunteer on their website and was soon contacted by Paula with information about how to participate in their training academies, designed to help the athletes prepare for the Special Olympics.  Unfortunately I didn’t sign up in time to volunteer more than once before the main event, but I very much enjoyed helping out as an on-court instructor one evening at Cobb County’s Lost Mountain Tennis Center.  Special Pops is very active in Cobb County, volunteer opportunities exist at Harrison Tennis Center throughout the summer, and there’s an Annual Fall Classic Adaptive Tennis Tournament in October or November at the Racquet Club of the South.

Last Friday and Saturday afternoons I had the opportunity to umpire both short court and full court doubles matches.  Friday’s matches were all short court matches, played within the service boxes, to 6 games (a 12 point tiebreaker is played at 5 all); I umpired 3 singles and 2 doubles matches.  Each doubles team consists of one special athlete and one unified partner.  Everyone was such a good sport and the matches went quickly.  Even though it was a hot day, umpire coordinator Vicki kept us well supplied with water, Gatorade and snacks.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other volunteers as well.  Not only was the event well run by Special Pops coordinators – many of whom are on its Board of Directors and played as unified partners or umpired (Bill did both) – but there were other individuals (and families) that volunteered to be ball persons, whose help was invaluable to me both days.

Saturday’s matches were all full court doubles matches and the athletes were amazing; several could play on my ALTA mixed doubles team!  While I could stand at the net to the side and see all the lines during the short court matches, I actually had to climb up into an umpire’s chair to call the action during the 3 full court matches on Saturday.  The scoring was different:  two sets, first team to four games wins, with a 12-point tiebreaker as the third set (if necessary).  Every match went the distance that afternoon, which was also pushing 90 degrees.  Again, all the athletes and unified partners exhibited great sportsmanship; there were none of the issues that one can (unfortunately) see during an ALTA match.

I highly recommend the experience.  If you’re a tennis player that’s looking for an outlet to use your passion for the game to help others, check out Special Pops Tennis, and maybe I’ll see you out there!

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