“Run and Roll”: One woman’s adventures coaching a wheelchair tennis team

Her mom is always telling her that she has come full circle. In many ways, Julie Fritz is fulfilling a passion that started 30 years ago when she was studying special education.

She knew she wanted to work in that field somehow and about five years ago, Fritz dived head first into something a tad unconventional: wheelchair tennis.

Being a tennis player in high school and college, Fritz knew the game and knew it well. After teaming up with the folks at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, Fritz was on her way to starting a tennis team unlike any of which she had been a player.

Fritz said that there are no major differences between stand up tennis and sit down tennis, except that those who play in a chair get two bounces instead of one.

Fritz has worked with the tennis teams at Butler University and Purdue University, where they all have a chance to hit the ball together during clinics. Just because the two teams appear to be different in terms of hitting and passing the ball, no one seems to really mind.

“We call it run and roll,” Fritz said.

Players of all skill level can roll on this team. Fritz said she has three different classes of players: therapeutic, recreational and competitive. All are in it because of their love of the game, regardless of their ability.

Part of Fritz’s responsibility as a coach is exposing the team to other players around the country and even around the state. For instance, Fritz and the team participate in three tournaments over the summer in places like Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids and this year she will even take them to the Wheelchair US Open.

“They can learn from each other,” Fritz said.

Much of the process of figuring out how to play tennis in a wheelchair, comes from watching others do the same. Fritz said one of her players learned how to effectively use duct tape as a grip after seeing it being done at a tournament.

Fritz’s team is a cast of unique characters. One such character is Brad Humphrey, an 18-year-old high school senior who is paralyzed from about the waist down. He hasn’t always been paralyzed though, he was involved in the stage collapse over the summer at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

But Fritz said Humphrey compares his life altering injuries to mere bumps in the road.

“He just goes,” Fritz said.

Despite the team’s small size, only 8 players, Fritz knows the just how powerful her efforts, which are all volunteered, are to the players.

“I always enjoy seeing them do something they didn’t think they would be able to do,” Fritz said. “I don’t see the chairs anymore.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *