Special Olympics

All tennis players are, in fact, just tennis players.

image HTA helps organize the annual Special Olympics Area Tournament, held every April at MacGregor Park. Participants from the Area Tournament are then allowed to compete in the State Special Olympics Tournament held at the University of Texas at Arlington in May. In addition, the athletes can apply to compete at the annual National Games and the World Games held every four years.

According to the Special Olympics Website, an intellectual disability "...is a term used when a person has certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, including communication, social and self-care skills. These limitations can cause a child to develop and learn more slowly or differently than a typically developing child. Intellectual disability can happen any time before a child turns 18 years old, even before birth."

If you would like to get involved as a Special Olympics athlete or as a coach, please go to the Special Olympics Texas website at www.sotx.org.

Special Olympics Reflections of Houston Coach and HTA Board Member, Shirley Mendoza

I became active with Special Olympics (SO) tennis in 2008. Up until that point, I had no idea the scope of their outreach. A good friend of mine has a daughter who is very active with SO tennis in Houston, and I was invited to coach her team, the Houston Hot Shots, from 2008 through 2011. I held weekly practices during the season and traveled with the team to the Area Tournament and the State Championships.

When I reflect on the time I had with Special Olympics, two experiences stand out:

I was playing unified doubles, which is a doubles team consisting of one special needs athlete and one player without an intellectual disability. My partner and I lost in the third set tie-breaker, and I was worried she wouldn't handle it well. Instead, she turned to me and said, "Coach Shirley, I had such a great time. By the way, who won that match?" I told her we lost, and she put her arm around me and said, "Next time, Coach Shirley. There is always next time!"

Second place never felt so good!

In 2011, I was selected as one of five tennis coaches to travel with Team USA to the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece. The Opening Ceremony was at the Marble Stadium—the Marble Stadium! We were at the birthplace of the Olympics. So many memories were made, but it's not the 33 medals won that I remember the most. It's the way we pushed the athletes to travel long hours and adapt to any situation. They all did their own version of perfect, and I was just thrilled to be a part of their experience.

I loved every minute I spent on the court with the Houston Hot Shots and Team USA. I've learned that all tennis players are, in fact, just tennis players, regardless if they have intellectual or physical disabilities. Everyone wants to learn.

Visit the media gallery of Shirley's photos from her 2011 trip to the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens.