As senior Aiden Norris steps onto the tennis court with a racket in his hand, a smile illuminates his face as he thinks about his deep rooted love for playing tennis. As he’s conversing with his friends, he realizes that this is the one place where he gets the chance to play the sport he loves while creating bonds with those who share the same passion as him.
Tennis Buddies is an organization that gives the opportunity to physically and developmentally impaired athletes to learn tennis from enthusiasts of the sport. Tennis Buddies was created in 2008 by Special Olympics Nebraska.
“I am a tennis buddies athlete, and I play doubles with my brother at the Special Olympics Tournament. My favorite thing about tennis buddies is hitting balls. Tennis is my favorite sport, and I make friends there,” Aiden Norris said.
Tennis players from all over the Omaha area are involved in the program, including players from Creighton and other Omaha high schools, some from MN.
Aiden, along with his sister, Zoey Norris, are two of the handful of MN students who are involved with Tennis Buddies. They both share a love for the sport and have been a part of Tennis Buddies for around six years.
“I found out about Tennis Buddies when my parents were looking for activities for my brother Aiden. Hearing about the program and what they do for people with disabilities made me want to be a part of Tennis Buddies,” Zoey said.
Allan Muinov, currently a senior at MN, is another volunteer for Tennis Buddies who felt compelled towards the program right off the bat. Muinov has been actively volunteering for the program for close to two years now, and found out about it while looking for sports-related volunteering opportunities.
“My favorite thing about Tennis Buddies is being able to give those who have access to far fewer opportunities than myself the chance to play the sport that I love and have played my whole life,” Muinov said.
Volunteer coaches are usually tennis players that have enough tennis experience to teach the players technique and live in the Omaha area. At practices, they usually run drills and play matches. They even throw fun parties during the holidays and participate in national unified tournaments.
“My favorite thing about tennis buddies is being able to see the athletes grow in their tennis abilities and seeing their faces light up because they truly enjoy the sport,” Zoey said.
The special thing about Tennis Buddies is that there aren’t many programs like it in the Omaha area that deal directly with sports where those with and without disabilities can cooperate. The program works to remove the exclusion of individuals with special needs and opens an entirely new door to people who might be interested in playing a sport but were never able to before due to their impairment.
“I think the players enjoy the opportunity to get up and move around, as well as develop a unique skill in playing tennis,” Muinov said. “Since there are often fewer opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities, I think the athletes appreciate being able to do something unique while simultaneously having fun and making friends on the weekends.”