When There’s a Will, There’s a Way


Andrew Chiritescu, Contributing Writer

Did you know that most Saturday mornings our school’s tennis courts are bustling with people,  cheers, and many laughs? I didn’t know either, until several years ago when my older brother started volunteering with Sarasota’s Buddy Up Tennis program, which I also joined as a freshman.

Last summer, I also spent two weeks with their friendly athletes and the dedicated coaches and student buddies, at the Buddy Up Camp, on the ODA courts.

It was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my life.

Down Syndrome, also called Trisomy 21, is a complex genetic disorder caused by being born with an extra chromosome. Those affected have characteristic face features, intellectual disability, and weak muscle tone, and they often suffer of other various medical problems.

What I learned though is that they also have an incredible spirit to make up for their fragile and imperfect body. They are genuine, affectionate, and probably the best huggers anyone will ever meet. They often struggle through various therapies during their childhood to achieve milestones that most people reach easily, and usually take for granted.

As stated on their website, “Buddy Up Tennis is a weekly, high-energy adaptive tennis and fitness program for children and adults with Down Syndrome.” It first started in 2008, in Columbus, Ohio, with the motto  “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way.”

The program pairs the athletes with a buddy to guide them through practice. Each 90-minute clinic consists of 30 minutes of fitness and 60 minutes of tennis training – strokes, serves and lots of games. The team is made of about 25 athletes who are trying their hardest to strengthen their motor skills, their balance and hand-eye coordination.

At the same time, they are also building confidence, making new friends and simply having fun.

Allison Davis is the president of the Sarasota chapter of the Buddy Up Tennis. Her triplet sister, Sarah, was born with Down syndrome, and is the program’s first athlete and the inspiration behind it.

Five years ago, they were both seniors in high school. Watching Sarah’s joy and hard work during her tennis lessons, Allison realized that she wanted to give the same opportunity to other Down Syndrome families to celebrate their kids’ love for tennis, as she puts it, “to play tennis in a different way.”

She eventually partnered with Buddy Up Tennis, and set in motion what soon after became the ninth branch of the Buddy Up Tennis, now located in 21 cities, across ten states.

Sarah Davis playing Duck Duck Goose with Kathy Rosenberg and her friends.

When asked what was her favorite part of being at Buddy Up, Sarah responded: “having fun with my friends, forehands, backhands and all that good stuff.”

She will also give you an earful about meeting her hero, Roger Federer, last year, when she and two other athletes with Down’s represented Buddy Up at the Tennis US Open, in New York.

Several ODA students were buddies this year. Jenna, a junior, shared with me her experience and told me that her favorite is “simply making friends with the program’s athletes.”

Buddy Up has just finished their spring session, and will regroup in summer for the camp.

For those who are interested, anyone over 14 can be a buddy, and tennis skills are not required.

Check it out!