The Professional Tennis Registry's 27th Wheelchair Tennis Championships attracted athletes from 10 countries to Hilton Head Island last month to face off in the prize money tournament.
The event is part of the Uniqlo Wheelchair Tennis Tour, and is sanctioned by the U.S. Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation, which named it one of seven Grade A Junior Tournaments worldwide.
Tennis is the only integrated sport, meaning an able-bodied player can compete against a wheelchair athlete, or both able-bodied and wheelchair players can be on the same team for doubles. The same rules apply, except that wheelchair players are afforded two bounces.
Competitors representing Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Israel, Japan, Taiwan and the U.S. played across multiple divisions Sept. 21-24 at Chaplin Community Park. A record number of women, 24, took part this year according to Julie Jilly, tournament director and vice president of PTR, the largest global organization of tennis teaching professionals.
"They're able to compete very well on the court," said Jilly. "Tennis is the fastest growing and one of the biggest wheelchair sports right now."
"It's a great way to expand your horizons and travel," said Beth Redford, a player from Grand Rapids, Mich. "There's a sense of community here."
Larry Keeter, a PTR-certified instructor, returned to the tournament after taking a year off for the birth of his daughter. He started the Carolina Rollin' Racquets wheelchair tennis league at Rock Hill Tennis Club in the upstate about four years ago. The group offers training to recruit beginner wheelchair players.
"After my accident I was down and out, and I didn't want to do anything. A couple of my buddies talked me into trying tennis, and it really turned my life around," Keeter said. "I wanted to help other people do the same. It's an opportunity to get out and do something, to meet new people and even help reestablish self-confidence and independence. That's what the sport of tennis is. Anyone of any ability can play. It's fantastic."
Local winners of the international tournament who represented South Carolina included Robert Masella in the "B" singles division and Jeffrey Townsend in "C" singles.
Shae Dalrymple is the assistant editor of the Hilton Head Sun.