Any day of the week at JTCC, a person would see see a mix of high performance juniors, kids, and adults training to improve their tennis playing ability. But October 13-15, it was the coaches who were training on court to learn a new sport: wheelchair tennis.
Marking one of the largest certification trainings that USTA National has facilitated, on October 15, 25 JTCC coaches and five additional coaches officially earned their Wheelchair Tennis Certification. The landmark achievement designates JTCC as the facility with the most certified coaches in the country.
To earn certification, coaches completed one and a half days of training on court and in the classroom. Led by USTA National Manager of Wheelchair and Adaptive Tennis Jason Allen, coaches learned the three critical topics that differentiate wheelchair tennis from able-bodied tennis: disability, sports wheelchairs, and movement. Coaches also practiced implementing the USTA Net Generation wheelchair tennis curriculum which teaches tennis to beginners while building fundamental skills and having fun!
“With wheelchair tennis being the most professional and integrated of all Paralympic sports, it made sense that we should follow suit and equip our coaches with the knowledge they need about disability and equipment to coach our wheelchair tennis players,” says Gabby Hesse, JTCC Head of Adaptive Tennis. “The need for coaching education was apparent to continue to integrate classes and become the model program in the US for wheelchair and adaptive tennis”.
Since restarting in fall of 2020, JTCC and MedStar NRH’s wheelchair tennis program has grown to reach more than thirty athletes, with one wheelchair player, Brad Evans, also participating in an adult 3.0 clinic. Brad has been involved in the sport for 24 years, and is an avid player in JTCC’s program. He also decided to earn his wheelchair tennis certification last week, stating “I wanted to be able to make a wheelchair clinic I help out with in Baltimore better, and I’ve always been interested in coaching and passing on my tennis knowledge to new players!”
He notes the significance of the milestone for wheelchair tennis in the Mid-Atlantic Section, stating, “Having all coaches certified makes JTCC a leader in adaptive tennis…a new player can come to JTCC and any coach is going to be able to provide a great experience for them. It also makes JTCC very welcoming for people with disabilities!”
That weekend, Brad also competed in the inaugural year of the JTCC Wheelchair Championships, a Level 4 USTA-sanctioned wheelchair tennis tournament held October 16 and 17. He and 16 players from around the section, including two from North Carolina and California, came to the facility to compete. The tournament was sponsored in part by MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital’s Adaptive Sports and Fitness, who generously donated food and assisted with the event’s organization and execution. 57 JTCC members and program players volunteered to assist players on court throughout the weekend.
Larry Toler, a player in JTCC’s weekly wheelchair tennis clinic put on in partnership with MedStar NRH, competed in the tournament, saying “JTCC is just a good place to play tennis and have a tournament…the people here, the courts, it’s a beautiful facility. We need this, we need to have outlets for activities we enjoy to do. It’s very, very important. Without this opportunity, what are we going to do, where are we going to go, to play?”
A frequent participant of JTCC’s wheelchair tennis clinic Sunday afternoons with Gabby Hesse, Larry talks about the special impact Gabby has had growing the program. “She cares. When you have someone that cares about something and wants to see it grow, it excites you. It moves you to want to participate because you have someone that cares about the sport and the adaptive part of it and wants to see us succeed on the tennis court.”
“It’s truly an honor to work within an organization like JTCC that is so committed to the philosophy of ‘Tennis for Everybody’ that getting all coaches certified in wheelchair tennis isn’t an outrageous idea: it’s something that is welcomed with open arms,” says Gabby. “Helping provide opportunities for coaches and players and volunteers to learn wheelchair tennis and seeing how impactful the experience is on court for all involved…it’s life changing.”