Buddy Up Tennis
More than 500 Athletes and Buddies take to the courts each year in Buddy Up Tennis clinics, with programs in seven cities. Every athlete is building confidence, making new friends and, of course, learning to play the game of tennis as a member of the Buddy Up Tennis Team

By Shelby Rhyne, special to USTAFoundation.com

Buddy Up Tennis is a weekly, high-energy adaptive tennis and fitness program for children and adults with Down Syndrome based in Columbus, Ohio.  Starting in 2008 with the mantra, "Where there's a Will, there's a way!,” Beth Gibson, Stephanie Anderson and Doug DiRosario created a tennis program for Beth's young son, Will Gibson, at Wickertree Tennis Club in Westerville, Ohio.  

"Expectations for kids with Down Syndrome are so different from even five years ago when you see someone like Will going out there playing tennis, hitting serves, being consistent and enthusiastic about it," said Dr. Murugu Manickam, Buddy Up Tennis volunteer and pediatric expert at OSUMC/Nationwide Children Hospital.

Today, the Buddy Up Tennis program has more than 50 athletes on the roster ages 5-45 in Columbus alone, and it has spread to seven cities across the Midwest and South: Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton in Ohio, as well as Chicago, Pittsburgh and Murfreesboro, Tenn. 

In all, more than 500 athletes and buddies take to the courts each year in Buddy Up Tennis clinics, and a recent exhibition at the 2014 National Down Syndrome Congress in Indianapolis generated interest from communities across the country.

"When you follow your passion and you follow your heart, then I think you can do great things in the world," said Rick Gibson, Will's father. "You can really turn something that could have just been one little boy playing tennis into something impacting the life of many people. We see it every weekend in every clinic.”

Each 90-minute clinic is packed full with 30 minutes of on-court fitness and 60 minutes of tennis skill development. Athletes are dedicated to trying their best, growing stronger physically, developing coordination and strengthening motor skills and balance. Every athlete is building confidence, making new friends and, of course, learning to play the game of tennis as a member of the Buddy Up Tennis Team.

"We wouldn’t miss it for anything," Barb Jefferis, a Buddy Up Tennis parent whose 20-year-old daughter, Susan, is in the program. "As a matter of fact, we have cut our vacation short to make sure we got here. This has tapped into Susan's potential. She’s good at it. She's really thriving in this environment. It’s been so amazing." 

Every athlete goes on the court accompanied by his/her volunteer partner or “buddy.” Buddies act as role models providing encouragement, promoting teamwork, confidence and a desire to succeed. These volunteer buddies come in every size and shape, just like the athletes. Volunteers can be adults or teens, with or without tennis experience. The only requirement is a love of working with the Down Syndrome community and a willingness to have FUN on the courts!

“Buddies have a lot of fun with it too. They’re very dedicated," said Mike Bonnell, Buddy Up Tennis coach. "The cool thing about it is that people come from all walks of life to help out ... people who have no knowledge of tennis as well as tennis players who have been on the court for 20 years. It’s a crazy energy. You have to harness the whole thing to keep it moving, to keep it organized. If they had their way, I think they’d be playing all day.”

In addition to their regular weekly workout, athletes and buddies have participated in demonstrations at professional events like the Western & Southern Open.


Visit the website www.buddyuptennis.com, for news of expanding locations in 2015. For more information about volunteering or hosting a Buddy Up Tennis program in your tennis or Down Syndrome community, contact Beth Gibson, Buddy Up Tennis Founder and Director at beth@buddyuptennis.com


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