Get Ready to Run and Roll!
A new program pairs wheelchair and able-bodied players in doubles events across the country.
A new initiative to introduce wheelchair tennis to the masses is spreading across the country. The Prudential Blaze Tennis Run/Roll Challenge is bringing ambulatory and wheelchair players together for exciting competition in the hopes that more will want to get into the game.
Run/Roll tournaments are one-day, unsanctioned doubles events, played in either a round-robin or compass-draw format, in which one partner is in a wheelchair and the other is able-bodied. There are commonly three to four tiers or flights in each event — 5.0. 6.0, 7.0, and 8.0 — so that players from beginners to advanced can play, with more than a 1.0 rating difference allowed between able-bodied and wheelchair players.
“We don’t want to preclude anyone’s participation,” says Karin Korb, a regional program director for BlazeSports America, which provides sports and recreation opportunities to disabled individuals.
Inspired by a statewide Georgia tournament that grew to attract national interest, organized by former Georgia First Lady Marie Barnes, five BlazeSports America program clubs hosted Run/Roll events in 2005. That year, Prudential Financial signed on as a national sponsor, the first time a corporation has supported a project of this sort.
Word spread so quickly that, in 2006, 15 events were organized across the U.S, marking new organizational relationships between BlazeSports clubs, USTA sections, and local CTAs. BlazeSports America and the USTA started working together to promote and grow wheelchair sports in 2004. The USTA’s involvement in the Prudential Blaze Tennis Run/Roll Challenge is fitting to help achieve its goals for wheelchair tennis growth.
“We grasped onto it because it’s such a positive event,” says Dan James, USTA Wheelchair National Manager. “It’s going to increase the number of players and programs in the U.S.”
Last November, BlazeSports Tampa Bay, working with the USTA Florida Section and Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department (of which the club is a program), hosted a Run/Roll tournament. Eight teams competed at either the “Blaze” (novice) or advanced level. For some of the wheelchair players who participate in the club’s adaptive tennis program, it was their first time playing competitively.
“You could see their growth by being able to go from a recreational component to match play,” says Andy Chasanoff, sports coordinator for BlazeSports Tampa Bay. “They are looking forward to the next tournament. For those who played for the first time, they’re looking forward to getting more instruction. They want to progress in tennis.”
Offering playing opportunities for disabled athletes not only grows tennis, but can also be advantageous to club and facility business, Korb explains. “You’re talking 65 million people, half of whom are recreational,” she says. “If you’re the friendly neighborhood tennis center, we’re going to bring our money there.”
According to David Gary, manager of the Peachtree City Tennis Center in Peachtree City, Ga., a city-owned facility, the tournament supported local business. Participants from other states stayed in local hotels, and hosting the event also proved lucrative for the facility’s pro shop. “We did see a spike in sales,” he says.
The Run/Roll event, Chasanoff says, inspired education, integration, and understanding among participants and spectators. “Our athletes were seen for their ability, not their disability,” he says. “It was very educational for all involved.”
“The tournaments really stretch people’s personal boundaries,” says Korb.
Getting on board is easy. To qualify for financial resources from BlazeSports, your facility must have a working relationship with your section and local CTA in presenting the tournament. Following the event, organizers must produce a detailed summary of the event, draw sheet, photo disc, and any PR materials, as well as copies of any media coverage.
Growth of the program to a national competition is likely on the horizon, says Korb. Ideal, she says, would be a format in which winners from tournaments across all of the USTA’s 17 sections would compete for a national title. Another possibility would be to hold a “marquee” event — an open or invitational, unsanctioned event for players from across the country.
“When tennis facilities, clubs, corporations, and quite simply all human beings begin to truly understand that there is no greater venture in life than to invest in human capital, we will grow as people, as well as sustain the game of tennis,” says Korb. “The Run/Roll format showcases this exact investment and having watched these events grow the way they have this year, I can’t help but think that the investment isn’t just benefiting tennis — it’s benefiting humanity.”
See all articles by Kristen Daley
About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for Tennis Industry magazine.