A long-time tennis player himself, Jason Anderson wasn’t looking for competition for his son, he was looking for a community.
In fact, Reeve, now 2, wasn’t even born when Jason and his wife, Shana, first checked out the Buddy Up Tennis program at Kettering Tennis Center. But the couple knew their son had Down syndrome and was planning ahead to best meet Reeve’s needs.
“It was important for us to establish that community,” Jason said. “We wanted to understand it better, meet other parents and start the conversation.”
One out of every 691 babies in the United States — or 6,000 babies a year — is born with Down syndrome making it the most common genetic condition. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome.
Buddy Up Tennis is a high-energy, adaptive tennis and fitness program for children and young adults with Down syndrome. The 90-minute clinics, offered locally at Kettering Tennis Center, include 30 minutes of conditioning and 60 minutes of tennis instruction.
It wasn’t long after Jason observed the program that he was all-in and is now one of the Buddy Up teaching pros. He is not alone in his passion for Buddy Up Tennis. The program is a win-win-win for the young athletes, their families and the “buddies” alike.
Athletes and families
The changes are noticeable to Walter’s mom Carolyn May.
“He’s lost weight, he’s toned up, he has muscles he’s never had before,” she said with a smile. “And he loves the game.”
Walter is one of the many athletes with Down syndrome who participate in the Buddy Up program. Players can get started as young as 5 years old, while Walter is among the oldest participants at 44. While they differ in age and ability, their enthusiasm is a constant.
“These kids have so much fun, it’s just a blast,” volunteer Gary Tucker said.
“When they get done, they leave with a smile on their face,” he said. “The sense of belonging, the sense of achievement and confidence, it’s just incredible.”
While Reeve is still too young to participate in Buddy Up, his dad is excited about the opportunities that await his son.
“The hope for anyone with Down syndrome is that their future keeps getting brighter and brighter and programs like this do that,” Anderson said. “When they get together, they have a chance to be like other kids without feeling frustrated.”
Tucker has been with the program since it began at KTC four years ago and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Watching the kids enjoy playing tennis is the best part,” Tucker, 67, said. “I think the volunteers have as much fun as the kids.”
Like the athletes themselves, the “buddies” range in age from pre-teen youth players to teaching pros.
While the court is Walter’s domain, Carolyn May works behind the scenes as one of the Dayton Buddy Up program coordinators.
“To see the buddies bond with the players is very special,” she said. “Many of the buddies return year after year. They build genuine friendships.”
The buddies are a constant source of inspiration to Anderson.
“I’m amazed by the buddies, how compassionate and loving they are,” he said. “As a parent, I’m humbled by that.”
To find out more about the Buddy Up Tennis program, to register an athlete or sign up to volunteer, contact J.P. Heinz at KTC at email@example.com.