USTA grant helps All Out Adventures offer adaptive tennis, pickleball programs 

  • From left to right, Amy Sugihara, Denise Roy, and Adrienne Phelps take part in an adaptive tennis clinic put on by All Out Adventures. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ALL OUT ADVENTURES

  • Denise Roy serves a tennis ball during an adaptive tennis clinic put on by All Out Adventures. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/ALL OUT ADVENTURES

Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2023 7:32:22 PM

All Out Adventures lives up to the name above its door — the nonprofit provides opportunities for both people with disabilities and their family and friends to participate in a variety of recreational programming, from bicycling to kayaking and more.

Recently, staff at All Out Adventures were approached by a few people who participated in their programs with a specific request — could they add adaptive tennis and pickleball programs to the schedule?

Over the last year, Karen Foster and the rest of the team members at AOA have been hard at work making an adaptive pickleball and tennis program happen.

“This actually came from program participants. We’ve had multiple program participants asked us to work to develop inclusive tennis and pickleball programming,” Foster said. “The other thing that is really critical that we’re really excited about with this is there’s lots of opportunities for indoor play in the winter. Many people who have disabilities, depending on their disability, it’s very, very difficult to be outside in the winter because of sensitivity to cold.”

Wheelchair tennis has exploded in popularity recently. Jason Harnett, the Director of Wheelchair Tennis at the United States Tennis Association, has seen numbers skyrocket since 2019. Though it’s hard to gauge just how many people are participating in the sport, USTA does keep track of certain metrics. Harnett said that in 2019, approximately 26 wheelchair tennis programs existed in the U.S. that were running weekly programs; today there are over 120.

AOA is one of those programs riding the wave of the sport’s popularity, looking to incorporate adaptive tennis and pickleball programming into its calendar. The biggest investment they needed to make was purchasing three Top End Tennis Pro wheelchairs that will allow people of different sizes to be able to maneuver quickly around a tennis court more easily than they could in a manual wheelchair.

The local community stepped up when AOA launched a fundraiser for the chairs, and they’ve ordered three of them that should arrive in September. In the meantime, they started a soft launch of their tennis program in June when they hosted a clinic that attracted approximately 50 people, some with disabilities and some without. Everyone who came was excited to learn more about the game of tennis.

They’ve secured other funding for the new program in a variety of different ways. One of those was a $500 USTA grant; AOA was one of 34 organizations around the country who received one of USTA’s Grassroot Grants, money intended to help kickstart wheelchair tennis programs at the local level.

“As a community we’ve raised well over $9,000 to be able to purchase the tennis wheelchairs. So we sort of leveraged that grant from USTA to get people excited about it, to pay for a couple of our staff members to be there that day. We had a volunteer, Ben Lewis, who’s the Northampton high school coach, (who) volunteered to come and coach,” Foster said. “So it was really like a launching point.”

“Grassroot grants, whether it’s in wheelchair tennis, or the junior space, or the adult competitions, wherever we give out these types of grants, it’s all about supporting local programs to be able to get more people playing tennis, and wheelchair tennis really is no different,” Harnett said. “We recognize wholeheartedly that these grants are very, very important. We have been doing them a long time and the next big push is simply to get more funding, because there’s so much growth in wheelchair tennis right now.”

AOA also has a partnership with Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission Statewide Head Injury Program, which offers flexible funding that can be used for a variety of programming, and AOA is planning on using a portion of that for their tennis and pickleball programs. They expect the adaptive tennis and pickleball program to start in full force in late fall. In the meantime, AOA will continue to look for more funding for its programming, and Foster hopes that they can continue to add more chairs in the future to accommodate as many people as they can.

“Three (chairs) is just a starting point. We’re getting three chairs of three different sizes…. and then as this goes, I’m really hopeful that we’ll be able to add to our collection,” Foster said. “Our vision is that this be a really inclusive program so that people of all ages and abilities can get together and play together.”

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.
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