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Carroll tennis players coach kids with special needs

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Friday, July 2, 2010

By David Eck

DAYTON DEANERY — Most tennis camps are designed to improve players’ fundamental skills and increase their competitiveness, but a recent camp held by the Carroll High School tennis team had much more meaning.
Instead, the high school students and a few Carroll alumni used tennis to interact with about a dozen youngsters with special needs. They hit tennis balls off tees, used racquets to dribble balls, chased each other, played lighthearted, silly games and laughed for the entire hour they were together.


Carroll High School girls’ tennis coach Chris Heider
Carroll High School girls’ tennis coach Chris Heider leads campers in a stretching exercise prior to working on their tennis skills. (CT/Jeff Unroe)

Developing their tennis skills helped the youth with their motor skills, socialization and simple tasks like cleaning up. The high school students had a more direct goal — serving others who really need help.
The weeklong camp was held each morning at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Kettering. The campers ranged in age from 6-21.

“We’re just out here serving people and doing what Carroll Patriots do,” said Chris Heider, the girls’ tennis coach at Carroll. “They know we are here as a sign of God’s love for them.”

The campers included kids with autism and other special needs. Disorders included obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and behavioral issues.

Students worked with the campers individually on hitting the tennis ball and holding racquets. In one of the games Heider had the campers throw balls across the court, trying to hit him. He, too, enjoyed himself.

“You act like a goofball,” Heider said. “You still don’t let them get away with things. I just find by me personally acting goofy…anything like that gets their attention. Anytime they have success you make a big deal out it.”

The camp was a follow-up to one held in January. Following that event, Heider got a call from tennis great Billie Jean King. She had heard about the camp from Jo Geiger, national executive director of AIM (Adventures in Movement) for the Handicapped. Geiger recruited campers and is a friend of King.

Parents enjoyed the way Heider interacted with the campers.

“Coach Chris is amazing,” said Jim Weir, whose 16-year-old daughter, Emily, attended the camp. “He has an innate understanding of these kids.”

Benny Calcutta, who has autism, worked with Carroll senior Britany Hammond on hitting tennis balls. He smiled each time he sent a ball flying. “He’s really enjoying it,” said his father, Tom. “He talks about it all the time.”

Heider and Dennis Brun, campus minister at Carroll, came up with the camp idea. Brun has been encouraging coaches to do service projects with their players because students active in sports may not have the time to participate in other service opportunities.

“This is kind of part of our school mission. We’re a community serving a community. He’s extended that now to the sporting programs,” Heider said. “I just think that gives the kids a real sense that there are other people out there other than themselves. To get them to think of other people other than themselves is a huge thing.”

The high school tennis players said the camp made them more accepting and aware of kids who are different.

“It’s a really happy experience,” said Chris Webb, who will be a senior at Carroll this fall. “It’s a good way to start the morning by helping someone who really can’t help themselves too much.”

David Eck can be reached at [email protected].

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