Blind & Visually Impaired Tennis Gains Traction in Georgia

May 20, 2024
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Landyn Francis with volunteer Randy Stephens. Stephens uses the Eye Coach to help Francis understand topspin as well as to develop his technique when hitting the ball.

Things are hopping in Macon, Georgia and it isn’t all about the blues scene. A pilot tennis program started in April and it’s gaining traction.

In September of 2023, USTA Southern, in an innovative step to ramp up its diversity and inclusion efforts, partnered with the US Blind Tennis Association to host a workshop for coaches and volunteers to teach them how to teach tennis to blind and visually impaired individuals.

Staff from Macon-Bibb County’s Parks and Recreation Tennis Division, including Tennis Manager, Bobby Walker, were present and immediately latched on to the concept. They partnered with the Georgia Academy for the Blind, GAB, and six months later, the BVI Tennis Pilot Program was born.

MBC had the courts, tennis instructors and volunteers while GAB provided transportation, and 10 BVI students along with three teachers for the six-week course.

After the very first week, students were excited. Landyn Francis, a junior at GAB, has been blind since birth. As class ended, he said, “I think I might like to compete.” By week five his enthusiasm had grown. “You guys,” he said, speaking of the tennis instructors, “really put forth the effort to help us learn.” The best part for Francis? “Being able to know you made contact with the ball,” he said, his smile wide. “I’d love to come back and do this again.”

Aaron Hemphill, a 7th grader with very limited sight, views himself as an indoors person, but he would brave the Georgia heat in order to hit the courts. Hemphill said, “I’d definitely come out to play tennis given the opportunity.”

Students weren’t the only ones impressed. Dawn McDavid, PE teacher for GAB said, “Based on what I've seen, the students are truly relishing their time with BVI Tennis. The team and volunteers at the Randy Stephens Tennis Center have excelled in simplifying techniques to guarantee success for our students with various visual and sensory abilities. Initially unsure, the students have embraced new challenges and are discovering the significance of focus, discipline, and consistent practice in honing their skills. I am looking forward to seeing how the sport BVI Tennis will expand in the future.”

And lastly, the volunteers have also felt the joy from participating. Randy Stephens, a lifelong volunteer for USTA Southern and an accomplished tennis player himself said, ““Having gone through the training and now the opportunity to work with the blind and visually impaired has been amazing.” Stephens, who has worked closely with Francis added, “his [Landyn Francis’] excitement at making contact with the ball brings even more excitement to me. It’s definitely a highlight of my tennis career.”

Submitted by Robin Bateman, Tennis Facility Manager at City of Macon Parks & Rec.

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