Tennis For Fun athletes worked tirelessly to hone their skills and prepare for the State Tennis Championships at the USTA National Tennis Center in Lake Nona, Florida, on May 5 hosted by Special Olympics Florida.
Three athletes took gold and two took silver.
The season started in November and wrapped up its last day with a “goodbye party” on May 3 at Arlington Park before heading to the State Championships.
"It's the best day of my life. The coaches are bad to the bone," said Dylan Mayes, athlete.
Mayes handed out gift bags to each coach at the party and thanked everyone that helped make the season a success.
“We enjoy (Tennis For Fun) more than the athletes. We can show up in a bad mood and leave so happy because the athletes inspire all of us and it’s just so fun,” said Stacey Allerton, volunteer coach.
Athletes range from 16 to 65 years old with 15 total athletes in the program.
“These are the most loving people and they’re just so happy to be here,” said Brenda Shields, director of Tennis for Fun in Sarasota. “I moved from Tampa three years ago, and I volunteered for the program there. Me and my husband Ron, who is also the director, started the program in Longboat Key. We just wanted to do something for the community and a large percentage of the athletes are from The Haven.”
The program began in Longboat Key where it spent two seasons before moving to Arlington Park.
Amanda Walsh, Bethany Heckler and Dylan Mayes won gold in red ball skills in their division and Nico Moschini and Wendy Mikula won silver, explained Shields.
“The divisions are based on age and skill level, but they were super happy. It was such a successful day at state,” said Shields. “We just got a donation from the Suncoast Men’s Tennis League where they donated $2,500 because they were so excited about our program. It’s so helpful because if we can get donations, we can house our athletes when they go to regionals or state otherwise they have to wake up at 4 a.m, the day of to get to where they’re going plus compete later that day.”
Tennis For Fun, a nonprofit organization that offers free clinics for athletes with disabilities, was established in 2000 by Nathan Moore, a high school student at the time.
“It was a high school project, and it just grew. His mother, Judy Moore, took over and developed it further which she runs in various states. Because it was so successful here, the program is now running in Richmond, Virginia, and Charleston, West Virginia,” said Shields. “I am so proud of all of our athletes in the program and it’s always a sad day when you have to say goodbye to them, but we hope to start our fourth season this November."