Wheelchair tennis rolls on at Dartmouth courts

Mar 5, 2021

Disabled since birth, Wayland resident Melissa Hoffman has always found solace through biweekly wheelchair tennis clinics at the Dartmouth Indoor Tennis Building on State Road.

For Hoffman, she’s always seen the court as a place to forget about the good and bad of the world, and instead just think of her swing.

“It gives me something I can focus on that’s just about me,” she said. “Everything else can go away.” 

For the past five winters, she, along with the members of the South Coast Wheelchair Tennis Foundation, spend around two hours every other Friday working on the fundamentals of the game at the indoor court.

“It’s weird to me,” she laughed. “I certainly never expected to be this involved or what to expect, but now it’s become a pretty big part of my life.” 

Thomas Dodd, the president of the South Coast Wheelchair Tennis Foundation, started playing the sport more than three decades ago. One of the biggest factors for his involvement, he said, was that it was one of the “easier sports” to get his friends to play with.

“You can just show up with anyone at the court and just hit balls,” he added. 

Founded in 2016, the organization was established to promote wheelchair tennis throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Along with operating clinics, the organization also provides attendees with the equipment they need such as rackets and wheelchairs.

The wheelchairs used for tennis are angled to keep players stable as they move around the court. There is also a wheel on the back to prevent the wheelchair from falling over, Dodd said.

Clinics themselves are rather informal, with some players/athletes getting in a couple of games, while others try to fine tune their skills or get adjusted to the game itself — especially with all of the multitasking Dodd notes the athletes have to do.

“You got to hold the racket, push the chair, get a grip, and hit the ball,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of coordination out there.”

For Hoffman, who was the United States Tennis Association’s Wheelchair Tennis Player of the Year in 2019, it’s that ability to improve that coordination that excites her most. 

“It’s been really motivating,” she said. “Even if I’m not winning a game, I can still be my best.” 

Rochester resident and UMass Dartmouth professor Andrew Revell agreed. He said even though tennis is the sport he struggles most with, the clinics have been especially helpful with trying to maintain shoulder strength.

“By doing tennis, I can actually overcome that weakness,” he said. 

What Revell really enjoys about the clinics, he said, is that they allow him to potentially play some games with his two kids since the only modification is an extra bounce for the ball in wheelchair tennis.

“They already take indoor tennis lessons,” he said. “I thought if I could pick up tennis, then it’s something I can do with the family.” 

As the indoor season nears its end in May, Dodd said he hopes to spread more awareness about wheelchair tennis to get more kids involved.

“It’s a real pathway sport,” he said. “Hopefully, by this time next year, we’ll have at least one youth group somewhere in Massachusetts doing something.” 

For information on clinics, or to volunteer, visit www.southcoastwheelchairtennis.org.