Colin Connor’s mean forehand earned him a welcome and appropriate nickname.
“They call me ‘The Heat,’ ” Connor said with a proud smile.
The 20-year-old Bellbrook athlete showed family and friends how he earned that nickname as he wailed away on the ball during the showcase segment of the final week of the Buddy Up Tennis program at Kettering Tennis Center on June 15.
Buddy Up Tennis is a weekly, high-energy 90-minute program focused on adaptive tennis, fitness and fun for children and adults with Down syndrome. According to the Down Syndrome Research and Treatment Foundation, about one in every 800 American babies is born with Down syndrome, and it is estimated that about 350,000 people in the United States live with the condition.
The Buddy Up Tennis program began in Columbus in 2008 and has since expanded to Dayton, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. KTC hosts the local program, which just completed its first year in the Dayton area.
“They got to hit a lot of balls and they really learned a lot,” said Darrin Heinz, manager of KTC Quail Tennis Center.
KTC averaged 20 athletes, ranging in age from 5 to 40, and 30 volunteers a week in its program, which got underway in September and wrapped up in June.
“Everyone enjoyed this program — the athletes, the buddies, the pros — it was awesome,” Heinz said.
The athletes’ take
Nathan Westfall, 17, was quick to point out that he was already an athlete. Now, the Bellbrook High School junior is also a tennis player.
“I liked hitting balls, I liked the exercise,” Westfall said. “And I like making new friends.”
Westfall also liked hanging out with old friends like Connor who he has been playing basketball with for the past 11 years.
Connor, likewise, could find little about his weekly tennis lessons that he didn’t like.
“I like to play, I like the games, I like the warm-up,” he said.
Both athletes were pleased with their improved tennis game.
Melanie Forman was impressed by her daughter Sarah’s development as a tennis player.
“She had never played a day in her life before this program,” the Centerville mother said. “She has learned so much, it’s amazing.”
The parent perspective
The parents recognized benefits beyond much-improved serving and volleying.
“I like it mainly for the social aspect as well as the physical activity,” said Julie Tegtmeyer of Riverside. “They have a lot of fun.”
The coaches and volunteers impressed many of the parents.
“The one-on-one attention was so helpful and the buddies were so patient,” Theresa Westfall said.
“The coaches and volunteers were fabulous,” she said. “We’ve been in a lot of different programs over the years and this was so well organized and well run.”
The buddy benefits
There are usually few surprises on the court for Alter tennis player Yomali Kader. But the 16-year-old Level 6 player was pleasantly surprised by the players she worked with in the Buddy Up program.
“They improved so much in such a short period of time,” Kader said.
But it wasn’t the players’ progress that she enjoyed most.
“It’s just so much fun,” she said. “Seeing how happy they get after hitting the ball was great.”
Kader was one of the close to 80 buddies who volunteered over the course of the program.
“We had so many volunteers, there were days we had to turn some of them away,” KTC head pro Nate Jones said. “The athletes love it so much but, I think, it’s even more of a learning experience for us.
“I’ve been playing tennis my whole life and I have never had this much fun.”
The volunteers weren’t limited to tennis players. Tracy Stadler’s daughter Rachel, 13, didn’t play tennis until she connected with the Buddy Up program.
“She’s interested in working with people with special needs so this has been a great experience for her,” Stadler said.
While the program doesn’t resume until September, many of the players plan to keep practicing through the summer.
Theresa Westfall is looking forward to spending some time on the court with Nathan.
“I play tennis, so we’re going to play together some this summer,” she said.
And the Buddy Up Tennis players will also have their time in the spotlight in August as they will participate in a demonstration at the Western & Southern Open in Mason on August 18.
For additional information about the local Buddy Up Tennis program or to volunteer, contact Amy Allen at email@example.com or 937-750-9378.