Every Wednesday at Ridgewood Park in The Woodlands, a group of athletes meet to play tennis and make friendships—while learning the sport in a new way.
Spring Rollers, a wheelchair-adaptive tennis group that formed in The Woodlands in 2014, is made up of 18 members and has become a form of moral support and fun exercise for participants, according to Manager Jenny Lee.
Lee said Spring Rollers was first started by the late Stelios Vafiadis, who died of cancer shortly after forming the organization.
“Stelios was retired, and he loved tennis,” Lee said. “He started the program, and he got certified. I’m a physical therapist and I heard about it, so I was interested and called and said I wanted to help. He hasn’t really gotten to see the fruits of his labor, but we keep going.”
Lee said the organization meets weekly and has about five to six participants at each meeting. Members run drills with volunteers and then toward the end of the practice session, a game is played.
“We’ve been very fortunate, we have some really good volunteers, one [of whom]is a retired tennis pro,” Lee said. “Some of our people have played tournaments, so we have all levels, from advanced or beginners. It’s a sports group, but it’s also like a support group.”
Lee said Spring Rollers has received sport wheelchairs through grants from The Challenged Athlete Foundation and the Kelly Brush Foundation. The organization also hosts local tennis tournaments against other Greater Houston area teams.
“[The] University of Houston has a team, and so does the West Gray Recreation Center in Houston,” she said. “We play each other at the local events. Tennis is a great sport for a person in a wheelchair. Anybody can play it. The rules are all the same, except you get two bounces instead of one.”
Spring Rollers member Samuel Michael Ventura said the reason he enjoys being a part of the group is because of the way tennis is taught to members.
“Not only does Spring Rollers have the understanding of the game inside and out, they also have the patience and understanding of people in chairs,” Ventura said. “They are able to teach even though they aren’t in chairs.”
Ventura, a Kingwood resident who has been playing with Spring Rollers for nearly two months, said attending meetings is worth the drive as it enables him to learn the sport in a way that works for him.
“My favorite part is that they know what they’re talking about and they’re more than happy to share every little detail on how to do it,” he said. “ I’ve never played tennis before, and my son, now that he’s in high school, has decided to take up tennis. I want to learn how to play tennis so I could continue to play with him.”
For anyone who is interested in becoming a part of Spring Rollers as either a member or a volunteer, Lee said sending an email is the best way to get in contact with the group.
“The Woodlands Parks and Recreation Department has been very generous, and they give us the court time and there’s no cost. We try to provide a wheelchair for [members]and the rackets and the balls,” Lee said. “We’re always open to grow[ing]. Just email if you want to join.”