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Great fun with strings attached

Athletes hone their skills and gain self-esteem in annual Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals at Burbank Tennis Center

June 27, 2009|By Jeff Tully

BURBANK TENNIS CENTER — Self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and the joy of completing tasks on their own were some of the positives that athletes experienced at a unique event this week.

For three days, athletes hit, ran, leaped and frolicked in an event geared just for them at the Burbank Tennis Center. From the youngest 4 1/2 -year-old player to a 53-year-old, the name of the game was fun — with a good amount of instruction thrown in — at the fifth-annual Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals.

Despite a downturn in the economy, the academy has been able to continue running, and this year’s installment was the biggest ever.

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“We are up about 20% from last year,” Schmidt said. “This year we have about 100 [individuals] taking part. Even with the economy, the people who support us see the value in what we’re doing. They realize that this is something that they really can’t cut back on.”

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.

The ability for the athletes to attend at no cost was provided by the Burbank-based Greenlight Foundation. Under the direction of Bill Greene, the organization has sponsored the local event all five years.

Greene, a former tennis instructor, said he wanted to bring the event to the local special-needs community after reading about Schmidt’s efforts in St. Louis.

“When I saw what he was doing, I called just him up and said ‘Hey, let’s try and do this locally,’ ” said Greene, who has a daughter who is deaf. “I told him I’m a tennis guy and I got all the resources and can we start this year. He flew out, we met and the next year we had an event.”

The Burbank Tennis Center was the perfect venue to accommodate the event. Greene worked with executive director Steve Starleaf to make the academy a reality.

Starleaf said holding events, like the one that took part Monday through Wednesday at the cente, are the types of community oriented happenings he envisioned for the venue when it was first constructed.

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