Several years ago someone who worked with Cody took him to play tennis at our local city park. At the time I thought it was a wonderful extra activity for him and a way to interact with his peers. I can’t remember why, but for some reason they didn’t go more than a few times and I’m not even sure I realized it was an “official” program for athletes with special needs. That program is called Tennis for Fun and I recently came across their website when I was searching for something that could get Cody out of that house this summer. It’s tough because he is truly a homebody and puts up a fight to go just about everywhere, except of course the airport when leaving on a trip to his favorite place on Earth, in which case he is the first one ready to leave. I was pleasantly surprised when he didn’t argue, even a little bit, after I told him we would be going to play tennis on Friday afternoons.
Tennis For Fun, a free tennis clinic for athletes with special needs, is a volunteer organization that provides athletes with an opportunity to have fun playing tennis, to learn basic skills and to socialize with each other.
Our program specializes with athletes of all ages that are intellectually handicapped, but other special needs athletes are also welcome to join the program. Tennis For Fun is entirely a volunteer organization. All services and equipment are donated by our wonderful and dedicated volunteers. Click here to find out how you can get involved.
Tennis for Fun was founded by Nathan Moore, a Jesuit High School student, in September of 2000. His goal was to create a positive and fun activity for special needs athletes in the greater Tampa area. Since its inception, the program has grown substantially, spreading to four locations and coaching over a hundred athletes. Although Nathan has been attending college at St. Louis University, the program has been continued by his mother, Judy, along with Rosanna Chiaramonte, both of whom have played an enormous role in making the program what it is today.
I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to Nathan for starting Tennis or Fun, and to his mom and all of the selfless volunteers who give of their time for athletes with special needs. I had the pleasure to meet Nathan’s mom, Judy, at our local clinic, and she clearly loves what she does. She was kind, patient and helpful as she guided Cody through all of the basic tennis skills. The best part for me is that he gets to be among his peers for an entire hour while being active and participating in something he truly enjoys. My only disappointment is that I wish more athletes would show up each week. I know there are so many kids with special needs in our area who could benefit from this type of program, but I fear their parents either aren’t aware of it or they simply aren’t able to get them to the tennis court on Friday afternoons. Either way, it’s truly unfortunate because this type of activity is priceless to a person with special needs, as well as for the people who love them. I can say it has brought out Cody’s competitive spirit and his drive to do well at something once again. Those concepts may seem so simple and innate to many of us, but for someone like Cody, someone with autism, it didn’t always come naturally. When I began to see it emerge in Cody, though, it was truly magical because it felt like a hint of normal that so many of us crave to see in our kids when they are on the autism spectrum. It fills me with joy to have found an activity where Cody can have a little fun, learn a new skill and be with other kids who have special needs. I also can’t tell you who looks more forward to Friday afternoon these days because I literally count down the hours until we get to leave for the tennis courts. And while I might be a little biased, I dare say he already has some serious talent even though his only prior experience with tennis was playing it on the Nintendo Wii.
Seriously, this is an amazing program and I hope to see more athletes week after week and I especially hope to see these clinics spread all across the country….maybe even to your city!