Retired H-F Racquet Club tennis coach honored for adaptive tennis initiative

  Professional Tennis Registry
  CEO Dan Santorum presents
  Nancy Hoekstra the Member
  of the Year-Illinois award
  for her work on adaptive
  tennis.
(Provided photo)
 
Nancy Hoekstra’s dedication to making the game of tennis accessible to all won her Member of the Year-Illinois honors from the Professional Tennis Registry  (PTR) during its 2018 International Tennis Symposium in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in February.
 
Hoekstra was a tennis instructor at the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet & Fitness Club for more than 25 years before she retired in 2014. The award recognizes her work in developing a PTR Adaptive Tennis Certification Workshop for tennis professionals in the skills needed to work with athletes with special needs.
 
Hoekstra put together a team of five individuals from Special Olympics and PTR to create a curriculum “to teach the tennis pros how to work with adaptive students and help them develop really good tennis skills,” she said.
 
“The teachers and professionals know how the sport works, but they needed to know how to work with the athletes, so we came up with a curriculum about three years ago and we’ve been holding workshops with the tennis pros across the country.”
 
The manual has six levels of instruction with incremental steps on teaching the game, depending on the severity of one’s disability. 
 
  Kevin Curran, left, and
  Nick Brozek won gold
  medals at a Special
  Olympics competition
  in January. They are part
  of the adaptive tennis
  program at the H-F Racquet
  & Fitness Club.
(Photo by 
  Marilyn Thomas/H-F 
  Chronicle)
 
“The first level is just skills. You’re stationary and just hitting the ball over the net and placing it. You don’t really do the match games. For the ones who aren’t mobile enough or have trouble tracking the ball, level one is probably the best place for them to go out and enjoy the sport,” she explained.
 
The H-F Racquet Club’s adaptive tennis program was begun in 1991 after Hoekstra was inspired by a lecturer at a tennis professionals symposium who presented the idea of serving those who wouldn’t otherwise be on a tennis court. Hoekstra, a former physical and special education teacher, said she learned tennis was going to be part of the Special Olympics games. 
 
“And when I heard that I just thought that was something I wanted to do,” she recalled. Her H-F club supervisor, Sylvia Gothard, enthusiastically supported the idea, “and a week later a representative from Chicago Parents and Friends came in and said he had six Down Syndrome ladies that he’d like to start a tennis program with and it started from there.”
 
Hoekstra laid a foundation for the adaptive tennis program and has worked with hundreds of students over the years. For her, the players “really become like family” and she took several players to Special Olympics world and national games in Texas, South Carolina, Virginia and Colorado. 
 
In January, she was at the Special Olympics’ Xperience Tennis Invitational at the University of Virginia where H-F Racquet Club members Matt Boerema and Kevin Curran of Homewood and Nick Brozek of Tinley Park were among 32 invited participants. They won gold medals for placing first in their divisions. The invitational is 11 years old, and it was the eighth time the three have been invited to participate.
 
They also play competitive tennis on unified teams that pair disabled players with able-bodied players.
 
“I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to be able to open doors for them to show all that they can do through the sport of tennis,” their retired coach said.
 
Today the adaptive tennis program at the racquet club is under the direction of Cindy Heidkemp and Fely Ong.  Sessions meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
 
Hoekstra and her husband, Dale, relocated several months ago from Homewood to Hilton Head, South Carolina. She said she is continuing her volunteer efforts on behalf of Special Olympics and will be running a tournament there that will be drawing athletes from across the country.

 

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