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Swing into Spring unified doubles tennis tournament , skills clinic to draw hundreds to the Port City

This weekend, hundreds will travel to our area from across North Carolina for an inclusive tennis tournament and skills clinic.
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 6:50 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - This weekend, hundreds will travel to our area from across North Carolina for an inclusive tennis tournament and skills clinic.

The Swing into Spring unified doubles tennis tournament and skills clinic is this Saturday at the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex. The event is designed for those with intellectual disabilities, so that they can get involved in the sport.

It’s one of seven big events sponsored by Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina around the state — the event in Wilmington is one of the larger ones.

This year marks the 10th year for the Swing into Spring tournament. Over the last few years, they have more than doubled the number of athletes participating.

Organizers had to close registration this week because of the overwhelming interest this year.

“We have 99 athletes and unified partners signed up and then we have about 95 volunteers coming,” said Lou Welch, executive director of the Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina. “We’ll have 250 to 300 people there on Saturday because every athlete comes with one or more family members. "

The unified doubles tennis tournament, which is when an athlete with intellectual disabilities is paired with a volunteer, is from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The skills clinic for beginners is from 10:00 a.m. to noon.

Welch said the event is a great confidence builder for these athletes not only because they get to perform on the court, but also because their family members are out there supporting them.

“Many of these families have several children and maybe only one with an intellectual disability — and so they have supported their other children in their sporting events,” Welch said. “Abilities Tennis gives these families an opportunity to come out and support their child who has an intellectual disability. As they perform on the tennis court they have this opportunity to show off their skills, to show off all the practice that they’ve put into it.”

Abilities Tennis hosts year-round clinics for its athletes across the state. Here in Wilmington, the group meets every Thursday evening.

“This group in Wilmington — Billie Fitzsimons is the head coach and she has been running these clinics for 13 years,” Welch said. “They not only gather socially, but they do all kinds of things together. They travel to tournaments, they spend a lot of time together. That socialization is really probably the main reason that we exist. We want people to come together to find community and also play tennis and exercise — but it’s all to help our athletes with their overall well-being.”

While registration is closed for Swing into Spring on Saturday, Welch encourages for the community to still come out and support the athletes on the court.

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