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Wheelchair tennis development on the rise

Over 40 junior players from three schools attended the camp.

The screeching sounds of wheelchairs filled the Gauteng East Tennis Association (GETA) complex in Lakefield when the players were taken through their paces during the American Express wheelchair tennis activation camp on May 15.

Over 40 junior players from the Ithembelihle LSEN School in Germiston, Adelaide Tambo School for the Physically Challenged and Hope School did the hard yards as Tennis South Africa (TSA)’s attempts to revive the wheelchair tennis development programme, stopped due to funding constraints, took shape.

Top-ranked Ntando Nokama with Patrick Selepe.

Development

“We are reactivating the development centres. We stopped for a while because we didn’t have programmes running at schools. There were no coaches because of funding. Now we are trying to bring back everything,” said TSA wheelchair tennis manager Patrick Selepe.

The closure of the development centres severely affected grassroots programmes, said Selepe, which is why they now aim to strengthen their junior tournaments and activities to produce high-performance players.

Khopolo Motebang takes a shot while her teammate Inam Madiloyi watches her.

“To get a high-performance player, we must start at the grassroots level. It becomes challenging when you coach the young ones but don’t have activities like camps and tournaments.

“Competitions drive the sport. Regional, provincial, national and international tournaments motivate the players to stay in the programme,” Selepe said.

Camps

The manager said the Gauteng camp would be followed by similar camps in other provinces, adding that they would start at the regional level, then the provincial level and conclude with a national camp to identify players for inclusion in their high-performance programme.

Celimpilo Kunene.

“We’ll follow up with international events. We have five tournaments. The primary purpose is to be recognised internationally and help our players get international rankings. We want to strengthen our development programme to increase the pool of international players.

“We want to build up our high performance to have more juniors represent us internationally. Our programme is in a good shape. It will give us good results regarding closing the gap between high performance and development.”

The former SA Open winner, Evans Maripa, encouraged the players to keep their eyes on the ball, saying their education is equally important as their tennis.

Evans Maripa.

“It’s an honour to be here. I am proud to see the young players on the court, trying to find their talent. Being here is part of giving back. I enjoy the sport and being on the court,” said Maripa.

Opportunities and challenges

Young Khopolo Motebang, who lost the use of her legs after being shot at the age of two, said wheelchair tennis gives her peace of mind, adding that she would like to follow in the footsteps of her idol, Kgothatso Montjane.

“KG inspires me. She makes me believe I can do anything as long as I’m consistent and passionate,” she said.

Nqubeko Zulu and Joey Ravele.

Scelimpilo Sibisi, who suffers from Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD) (the upper part of the femur bone is malformed or missing, making one leg shorter than the other), said the sport has given him the opportunities to get sponsors and scholarships to further his studies.

He said he deals with much stigmatisation daily because of a lack of awareness of disabilities like PFFD.

“When I’m at the mall, people stare at me. It seems there is not a lot of awareness out there. People look at us like we are aliens. I encourage them to start learning about the different forms of disabilities so we can co-exist peacefully,” he said.

Musa Zondo.

The Hope School learner urged corporates to join American Express and invest more in sports for people with disabilities.

“We are also people and have aspirations. They don’t only have to sponsor able-bodied athletes because we also want to reach our full potential. We need their support. They should give us the hope to want to achieve our goals.”

Also Read: TSA pleads for support to increase number of wheelchair tennis tournaments

Also Read: Rising Star Tennis returns for another exciting season

   

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