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An event all their own

Ninety athletes learn and play at Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs.

July 09, 2008|By Jeff Tully

BURBANK TENNIS CENTER — The smiles on their faces were nearly matched by the pride% they took in perfecting their %skills.

For three days, athletes hit, ran, leaped and frolicked their way in an event geared just for them at the Burbank Tennis Center.

From the youngest 5-year-old player to athletes pushing 60, the name of the game was fun — with a good amount of instruction thrown in — at the fourth-annual Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals.

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From Monday through Wednesday, athletes were given the opportunity to improve their tennis skills, as instructors and an army of volunteers put the players through practices, skills drills, coordination exercises and various other physical activities.

The academy was established and is designed to meet the sport-specific needs of children and adults with various afflictions.

“Everything we do for the athlete is scaled,” said Vince Schmidt, one of the academy’s organizers. “That is a key term. Because we have such a diverse group of individuals who come here, some with Down syndrome, some with autism, some with a variety of different conditions that would impact their ability to play tennis, we have designed so many different drills that are scalable to meet their needs.”

Manning one of the stations on the 10 courts at the Burbank Tennis Center was Coach Joel Dacay. At the station, athletes were given the opportunity to kick a soccer ball around in a drill that improves their footwork.

“This is my fourth year working [the academy], and I just love it,” he said. “It is a wonderful experience to be able to work with these athletes and see what a good time they have out here It’s great to see.”

Schmidt, who has served as a professional near St. Louis for more than 10 years, joined with former French Open doubles champions Murphy and Luke Jensen to form the nonprofit academy.

One of the athletes taking part in the academy was George Nichol. Nichol said he was a little apprehensive at first to participate in the drill to hit a tennis ball.

“I’m having lots of fun. I really like the tennis,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it at first, but after three or four practice shots I did it.”

One of the unique aspects of the event at the Burbank Tennis Center is that all of the athletes get the opportunity to attend the academy at no cost. Along with three days at the academy, individuals were% also are provided with free equipment.

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