The Brenau Women’s Tennis team has been running tennis clinics for special needs individuals in their Gainesville, Georgia community since the spring of 2015. Initially, the program was simply teaching tennis techniques and helping others learn the sport, but over time it turned into more than lessons.
Conversations formed in between drills. Details were shared about their lives outside of tennis. Personalities came out and shined. The tennis clinics had a much greater impact than just teaching the game of tennis. They strengthened a community.
The Golden Tigers have incorporated the Special Pops Tennis clinics into their program for the past few years. Special Pops is a nonprofit that began in 2005 in Georgia. It is devoted to bringing the lifetime sport of tennis to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The nonprofit offers free year-round instruction, league play, and tournaments.
During the 2019-20 season, Brenau hosted 11 tennis clinics for groups of 20 children and adults. They had three more clinics scheduled for the year that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic.
In addition to the biweekly lessons that Brenau hosts, the Special Pops athletes compete in three events a year: Special Olympics of Georgia Summer Games, Special Pops Unified Doubles League, and the Special Pops Fall Classic.
“[The Special Pops athletes] can’t wait to participate and show off their medals upon return to Brenau,” Brenau Head Coach Andre Ferreira shared. “It’s awesome to build a relationship and ultimately share memories and experiences with the group.”
The clinics do more than just teach the fundamentals of tennis. They connect the tennis program with the special needs individuals that come for lessons. They connect Gainesville community members with each other.
“Gainesville, Georgia is an unbelievable community,” Ferreira said. “It’s diverse, vibrant, exciting and has so much potential. We want to be involved in Gainesville, get to know our community members, and give back in a small way. We hope we are adding value to our city by creating a more inclusive environment through Special Pops Tennis.”
In recognition of the Golden Tigers’ commitment to furthering the game of tennis and serving their community, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association has named Brenau the ITA National Community Service Award winner for NAIA Women.
Ferreira and the Golden Tigers are eager to get back on the courts with their Gainesville community members. They hope to continue to grow their program and create connections with their community.