Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2012

Adaptive PE Helps Students Play TennisA group of J. L. Mann High Academy students moves onto the school’s tennis courts on a sunny Monday morning. They’re ready to take a tennis lesson from Young Life volunteers “Skeeter” Powell and Lyn Garver. Both Powell and Garver also serve with David’s Table, a non-profit organization that assists young people with disabilities.

What is special about this group of students is that they are all in the school’s special needs program, and many are in wheelchairs.  They are learning to play tennis through a program called Adaptive PE, which is physical education that has been adapted or modified for a person with a disability.

“You’ll see us here with four different groups of students,” said Powell.  “One area of the court has all of the students in wheelchairs. Another group of students who are mobile will learn tennis skills today, but won’t ever play a complete game of tennis. The other two courts are students who can volley and hit the ball back and forth.” 

Powell describes Big Mike, who at first loved hitting the ball over the fence instead of the net. Someone who understood adaptive tennis told Big Mike to hit the ball in the circle he had placed on the other side of the net. “He’s doing well now. With a little help, he can surely play Special Olympics tennis one day,” said Powell.

Powell got the idea to teach tennis to special needs students about four years ago.  ” Bobby Austell and I took some of the adult J.L. Mann special needs alumni to Cleveland Park to see if this idea would work. Later we talked to school’s special education teachers and the principal to get their buy-in. Through the adaptive PE program, the students have learned basic tennis skills such as how to grip the racquet, how to hit forehand and backhand, and eventually they’ll learn to serve overhand,” he explained.

Milton A. Gatlin, Jr, a 1991 special needs graduate of J. L. Mann High School, is on the court in his wheelchair, serving as a ball retriever. “I’m helping collect the balls after they have been hit,” he said. “I want to be part of Young Life, and this is what my calling is.” 

Powell is passionate about the work he’s doing with students.  “For Young Life and David’s Table, we want to build relationships with students who are sometimes forgotten, often ignored. And we want to be a friend with a purpose. We want to give them an introduction to life. We appreciate the fact that the school system, principals, and teachers allow us to do that,” he said.

J.L. Mann High Academy is the district’s satellite campus for high school students with special needs.

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