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Tennis at its most rewarding

LO Special Olympics program is only one of its kind in Oregon


Gerri Allen has been a professional tennis coach for nearly 30 years, and she well knows the ingredient that makes the Lake Oswego Indoor Tennis Center’s Special Olympics program so rewarding. by: SUBMITTED - Gerri Allen, professional tennis coach at the Lake Oswego Indoor Tennis Center, gives a high-five to Daniel Tucker after a great shot at practice.

“It is so much fun,” Allen said. “Even just a little bit of progress is fun. I’ve discovered that the more fun I have on the court, the better off they are. With our May tournament all get prizes. Everyone wins.”

The program held its big annual tournament on Saturday at the Lake Oswego Indoor Tennis Center.

This is a good year to celebrate this successful program because 2013 is its 10th anniversary and also Allen’s 10th year at the tennis center. Why was it started?

“It was a population that needed to be served,” Allen said. “No one else was doing it.”

People with conditions such as Down syndrome, head injuries, Asperger’s syndrome and autism can play tennis. Fun is the result, and Allen has become an expert at helping them achieve it.

“I tailor each player for their skill level in tournaments,” Allen said. “I make sure everyone does what they have to do to win a prize. The first year we used bouncing balloons. One girl was very good at juggling balloons. She could do it all day. Now we use some low compression balls. It takes these players longer to get there, but their progress is amazing.”

Prizes are one measure of progress. Another is the special memories Allen has made over the years. Some of her players have been with her for a long time.

“There was one girl who was scared to come out on the court,” Allen said. “Now she runs out on the court with a big smile. One girl could not speak for the first three years. Now she speaks in sentences. It’s pretty amazing. For my best player, I need to keep coming up with things to challenge her. Now she’s got the hang of hitting a ball in the alley, and she wants more and more.”

No matter what the skill level of a player, Allen said, “All the kids are so supportive of one another and always cheering each other on. It’s wonderful to see. This is one of my favorite classes to teach, and our volunteers get so much out of it. It’s just a great program.”

The program is great because a lot of people care. Allen never has a problem getting plenty of volunteers, and she gets lots of support from the tennis center and the Greater Portland Tennis Council, which recently gave the program a grant to purchase new balls and prizes.

Allen gives a special nod of appreciation to Special Olympics of Oregon, which started the program in 2004. It no longer operates under the Special Olympics banner because a fee for players was added a few years ago, but the impact remains.

“We have been the only Special Olympics program in Oregon to offer this sport to our athletes,” said Gary Paxton, program coordinator for Special Olympics in the Portland area. “I think it has been a wonderful program for our athletes.”

Paxton praised Allen and the tennis center, saying, “You have done a terrific job of providing them the skills they need as individuals in a positive atmosphere.”by: SUBMITTED - Coaches and players in the Special Olympics program at the Lake Oswego Indoor Tennis Center pose for a group photo. Gerri Allen, second from the left up front, is director of the program, now in its 10th year.

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