Jack Barker (second from the right) was determined to use the game of tennis to enhance the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities. In the process, Barker learned that the athletes could teach him about hard work, patience, gratitude, enthusiasm and trust.
By Jack Barker and Joyce Dreslin, special to USTAFoundation.com
Jack Barker of Daniel Island, S.C., was selected this year to coach and accompany a team of special athletes representing the U.S. Barker's team competed as part of the Australian Open in Melbourne and, more recently, at the French Championships in Monte De Marsan. These tennis competitions are the best in the world for tennis players with intellectual disabilities and attract the highest caliber players.
This is his account of a 20-year sojourn through the world of Adaptive Tennis that culminated in this international honor.
My journey with Adaptive Tennis began when I volunteered at a Special Olympics event in Greenville. I was not assigned to the tennis competition, but I observed that there were only a few players, and it was obvious that they had not received much training. Asking some questions, I learned that tennis was a new sport for Special Olympics in South Carolina (SOSC) and only a couple areas had programs. I offered a few suggestions and that lead to SOSC asking me to be their volunteer tennis director.
From the beginning, my mission has been to use the game of tennis to enhance the lives of athletes with intellectual disabilities. My hope was, and still is, that in learning tennis, the athletes will develop improved health and more friendships. I learned early on that I would need a lot of help if I were to teach tennis and health. I also learned that the athletes could teach me about hard work, patience, gratitude, enthusiasm and trust.
The proverb of "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" is true. The PTR family with Dennis and Pat Van der Meer and Julie Jilly stepped up with teaching lessons and equipment. Around the same time, SONA created a tennis leadership group led by Dr. Glen Roswell, Nancy Hoekestra, Jim Hamm and Mary Smith. This group worked with the USTA on developing training material, standardization of athlete evaluations and expansion of the number of competitive opportunities in the country.
With the additional help of many others over the years, the number of SOSC tennis athletes and states offering Special Olympics tennis has increased significantly. One way we have been able to grow Adaptive Tennis in South Carolina is to do demos at some ATP and WTA events, as well as fun days with tennis clubs, high school and college teams. The number of athletes with improved health and the number of smiles has probably jumped 100-fold!
During the last year, my wife Diane and I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel and work with some of the best tennis players in the country through INAS, or Athletes Without Limits, as they are known in the U.S. The athletes not only compete against the best in the world, but they are afforded an opportunity to share a cultural experience with their peers.
My journey started with trying to help grow Special Olympics tennis players. The journey will never end as there is always one more athlete in need of help. I have received so much more than I have given including support from friends of both time and money for which I will be forever thankful. It has been a pleasure seeing society grow in acceptance, unity and respectfulness for these special athletes.
Please get out and see an Adaptive event! If you have the time and/or the financial resources to help, please do it. The return on the investment is priceless.