High-school kids teach tennis for the blind

Melanie Oudin plays blindfolded against Ellen Degeneres during the 2010 U.S. Open -- but blind kids need some mods …This is very cool: a group of high-school camp counselors came up with a way for sightless kids to play tennis. Fifteen tennis players from Snohomish (WA) High School came up with new equipment, and modifications to current gear and rules, including a larger foam "tennis" ball with a rattle in it; an on-court machine that chirps, orienting blind players to the direction the ball should go; lower nets; and letting the ball bounce a few times instead of just once.

Gabrielle Wilson, a varsity tennis player, got a $500 grant from the Snohomish County Sight and Hearing Foundation last year in order to put on a summer camp as her senior project. The camp is now run by high-schooler Amy Stevens. Stevens says that the focus is as much on the kids having fun and improving as on tennis. (What sounds the MOST fun to us is crafting the specialty tennis ball the camp uses: you cut a big foam-rubber ball in half, insert a ping-pong ball full of BBs, and put it back together with fabric tape.)

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Over the last two summers, almost a dozen sight-impaired campers have come to learn tennis, with 2-4 volunteers working with each camper. Last summer, Wilson told the Daily Herald that the camp aimed to help kids "get some of the basic skills down, like forehands and backhands, so that by the end of the week they have an idea of how to play." And some kids had been waiting a while for this opportunity; 9-year-old Sarathia Dickenson, blind since birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, is a super-active kid by any standard and likes skating and snowboarding – and now, tennis. Her favorite activity: hitting backhands. Her mom Kimberly's favorite part: that Sarathia "got to play with the other kids."

Awesome job, guys. Readers, we'd love to hear about similar camps and programs in your area; let us know about them in the comments!

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