By Hayley Fedor
For more than six years, the Tennis For Fun program in FishHawk has been providing special needs individuals in the community with a place to not only play tennis, but also to build friendships and be encouraged.
Although the Tennis For Fun organization has locations throughout the country, the FishHawk program began in 2014 when Jacob Fullerton saw a need in the community for an encouraging and inclusive sports program. After graduating from Newsome in 2016, Jacob passed the reins to his brother, Alex Fullerton, who directed the program until graduating from Newsome in 2020. Now their mother, Tessa Fullerton, continues their legacy as the new director.
Tennis For Fun works with a variety of athletes from children to adults that range in their abilities. Volunteers with the organization are committed to teaching tennis one-on-one in a way that makes sense for each athlete.
The mission is “just to provide a fun, social interaction for special needs, help them grow [and] teach them tennis,” said Tessa.
Each year, the program takes athletes to the Special Olympics. Preparation for the Special Olympics includes teaching players the rules of the game, which starts with learning the most basic skills. Each skill learned gives points to players in the competition for things like forehands, backhands and serves; those points are then added together to determine the winners of ribbons.
“Some of our athletes have competed at nationals and won,” said Tessa.
The area competition for the Special Olympics this year will be on Saturday, March 27 downtown at the HCC tennis center.
In response to the pandemic, Tennis For Fun is taking the proper precautions to keep athletes and volunteers safe by following the Special Olympics guidelines. Participants must fill out a COVID-19 code of conduct, temperatures are checked and athletes are asked a set of questions to assess their health.
Currently, Tennis For Fun in FishHawk has about 10 athletes and 20 volunteers that help make the organization run smoothly. Often, volunteers are able to receive service hours through Tennis For Fun that go towards Bright Futures education scholarships.
“We need volunteers, we need new athletes. We would love to have new athletes,” said Tessa.
Tennis For Fun clinics are held on Sundays at 4 p.m. at the FishHawk Trails Tennis Courts at 17616 Old Oak Way in Lithia.
To find out more information about Tennis For Fun in FishHawk and how to get involved with the organization, visit tennisforfun.org.