Good News: Buddy Up Tennis program serves youths with Down syndrome

Good News: Buddy Up Tennis program serves youths with Down syndrome

  • Coach Chris Wilkins, an assistant tennis professional at Heritage Tennis Club, works on basics with Annie Osterhues of Arlington Heights.

    Coach Chris Wilkins, an assistant tennis professional at Heritage Tennis Club, works on basics with Annie Osterhues of Arlington Heights. Courtesy of Buddy Up Tennis

  • The groups of special athletes and buddies keep growing in Buddy Up Tennis.

    The groups of special athletes and buddies keep growing in Buddy Up Tennis. Courtesy of Buddy Up Tennis

 
Posted11/12/2019 6:00 AM

Jane Riley ran into the Heritage Tennis Club on a recent Sunday afternoon, with one goal: to find out who her buddy was for the 90-minute drill.

Riley, 17, of Lake Forest has Down syndrome, and was one of more than a dozen special athletes who turned out that day for the adaptive clinic sponsored by Buddy Up Tennis.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The organization hosts clinics nationally in order to give young people with Down syndrome the opportunity to experience tennis, including boning up on fitness, basic skills and the social aspects of the game.

The local chapter of Buddy Up Tennis has been meeting at Heritage in Arlington Heights for six years, and Riley has been a regular. Another chapter opened in Naperville three years ago.

Jane Riley and Max Meagher enjoy the social aspects of Buddy Up Tennis as much as getting out on the courts.
Jane Riley and Max Meagher enjoy the social aspects of Buddy Up Tennis as much as getting out on the courts. - Courtesy of Buddy Up Tennis

As a result of her tennis experience, Riley now volunteers with the Lake Forest High School girls tennis team, where she keeps track of the balls for the players.

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"I like to meet new people," she said of Buddy Up Tennis. "It's fun."

Siblings Sydney and Zack Brubenstein of Lake Forest bring Riley every week. Once there, they serve as buddies for other players.

"I don't even play tennis, but I love doing this," Sydney said. "I help out with a lot of special needs activities at school, so this is a natural for me."

Zack, a freshman at Lake Forest High School, hopes to play tennis in the spring. While he's adept at the tennis drills, volunteering as a buddy was new to him.

"I'm trying to incorporate my tennis skills with helping people," he said.

Mary Beth Bowman of Barrington started the Arlington Heights chapter. Earlier in her career, she worked in operations for women's professional tennis before starting the Barrington Area Tennis Association in 2012.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One year later, officials with the Chicago District Tennis Association asked Bowman to start a chapter of Buddy Up and she eagerly accepted. The biweekly clinics have been held at Heritage ever since.

On this particular Sunday, the clinic drew 15 buddies, most of whom were high school students.

Raj Sachar plays varsity tennis at Stevenson High School, but he's also a good buddy. Here, he paired up with newcomer Brian Boldt and helped him relax and have fun during a Buddy Up Tennis session.
Raj Sachar plays varsity tennis at Stevenson High School, but he's also a good buddy. Here, he paired up with newcomer Brian Boldt and helped him relax and have fun during a Buddy Up Tennis session. - Courtesy of Buddy Up Tennis

Raj Sachar of Kildeer and a junior at Stevenson High School is a regular volunteer. He plays on the boys tennis team at Stevenson, but helping special athletes learn the game has given him far more than he expected.

"It's a way for me to give back in tennis," Sachar said. "Plus, my uncle has Down syndrome. It makes me feel good to be here."

Each clinic starts with 30 minutes of conditioning before learning some of the tennis skills. Athletes learn the fundamentals of basic groundstrokes, rallies and serves, and all with oversized balls.

"It's basically the same as any tennis drill, only we don't spend as much time on each skill," Bowman says. "As they get older, some of our athletes are more agile and can move to the ball to make shots."

For Brian Boldt, 25, of Arlington Heights, this was his first time coming, but he comes from a tennis family. His mother, Lori, plays competitively and his sister, Rachel, played at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.

"I wanted to try it out," Boldt said.

Coach Chris Wilkins watches as Gile Pomponi, 15, of Prairie View makes a forehand shot. Gile has improved steadily since coming to the Buddy Up Tennis clinic.
Coach Chris Wilkins watches as Gile Pomponi, 15, of Prairie View makes a forehand shot. Gile has improved steadily since coming to the Buddy Up Tennis clinic. - Courtesy of Buddy Up Tennis

Another athlete who has been coming nearly since the beginning is Gile Pomponi, 15, of Prairie View. He ran into the club eager to get out on the court. He said he enjoys hitting backhand shots and he takes pride in his serve.

"I want to hit some balls," he said. "I like to play tennis."

Find out more about Buddy Up Tennis, at https://buddyuptennis.com. To learn about becoming a buddy, contact Bowman at NWChicago@BuddyUpTennis.com.

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