Saturday marked the 10th year in a row that the Tennis Classic, an annual event for Special Olympic athletes to compete alongside athletes from around the Santa Barbara community, was held.
The original date for the Tennis Classic was supposed to be back in September, but the event was in danger of being canceled.
Not wanting that to happen, Dos Pueblos coach Liz French and Nance Wheeler, Director of City Tennis/Pickleball and a Board Member on the Tennis Patrons, got together along with their young staff and elected to do a smaller, simplified version of the Tennis Classic on November 2nd for the Santa Barbara athletes.
Despite being smaller, French, Wheeler and others wanted to make sure to honor the requests of their athletes which were to compete on normal-sized courts, enjoy good food and receive nice treats at the end of an overall fun day.
Unfortunately, the event was again threatened with the possibility of being canceled after, on Friday, the ash and smoke of the Maria Fire swept into the Santa Barbara area.
The team kept a close eye on the air quality reports, checking every hour and, as luck would have it, the air was clear by Saturday morning.
“(Saturday) was indeed a community show of support for its Special Olympics athletes. It did not hurt that the tennis gods also worked in our favor,” French said in an email.
With a clear day in front of them, the Tennis Classic was able to go off without a hitch thanks to the help of volunteers and dedicated staff led by French, the head coach of the event.
Special Olympic athletes competed at the event alongside different athletes and members of the Santa Barbara community. The 19 Special Olympic athletes were: Bev Cooper, Chris Evans, Elsa Fryer, Melessa Galbraith, Michael Gurney, Ramon Hooper, Sam Jauregui, Jacob Kuhn, John McGrath, Megan Meyer, Jesse Hollywood Nave, Amy Petersons, Cristian Quintanar, Ted Rudolph, David Schoettler, Zach Skaggs, Glen Smith, Aaron Stubbs, and Nicole Turofsky.
Assistant coaches were made up of current high school players from San Marcos and Dos Pueblos High including seniors Bryan Shott and Alexi Gill of San Marcos, juniors Mia and Cami Chou of DP, sophomores Alex Chow and Aidan Juan of San Marcos, freshman Natasha Gill and Romy Greenwald of San Marcos and DP, respectively. Eighth grader Jed Greenwald from La Colina junior high also helped out as an assistant coach.
Other adults that helped make this event possible were: John Kinsella; La Cumbre Country Club director Jade Martinez,;Jerry Hatchett, a board member on Tennis Patrons; Joshua Wang, a DP alum; Jerry Siegel, a long-time coach of Special Olympians; Craig Shott, Tom Ligare, Anita Presser and, of course, Wheeler.
Most of the matches consisted of mixed doubles which saw a variety of great play up and down the courts. Overall, there was a lot of competitiveness and intense play, but also a lot of high fives and good cheers.
At the end of the event, awards were handed out, including awards for Most Improved and Sportsmanship which went to Shoettler and Jauregui, respectively, and each Special Olympic athlete received two medals: a tennis medal, thanks to John Kinsella, and a Tennis Classic medal, plus a goodie bag.
Everyone then enjoyed a nice lunch together to end a great day.
“I can say that each of us volunteers cares for all of these incredible Special Olympics athletes, and they reciprocate. The friendships are forever. As we know, compassion goes a long, long way,” French said.