The Slippery Rock University tennis team partnered with Envision Blind Sports to host the first tennis clinic designed for children with visual impairments in the Pittsburgh area at Highland Park on Aug. 31.
In an interview with RockAthletics, SRU tennis coach Matt Meredith said, “We were very excited to be a part of the first tennis clinic for the visually impaired in Pittsburgh. Too often, limitations are imposed on the visually impaired when there shouldn’t be. Our student-athletes did an excellent job representing Slippery Rock”
Zack Baynham, a summer intern for Envision and a program specialist this fall, worked hand in hand with Meredith in order to successfully bring blind tennis to Pittsburgh.
“Matt Meredith is amazing; he’s really taken our program on,” Baynham said. “He runs our blind tennis camp for us every year. He helped me with the training session [at Highland Park]. He brought his entire team down so all the girls travelled down with him. All of his athletes have worked with our athletes beforewhich is huge because the experience is massive.”
Baynham attributed part of Envision’s blind tennis prominence to Meredith’s constant support. He said Meredith was invaluable in supplying Envision with a much cheaper way of acquiring the specialty tennis balls used for blind tennis.
According to Baynham, the official international blind tennis ball runs for about $15 dollars on the market. Meredith wanted to see what he could do about it and created a DIY version of the same ball that costs a little more than $3 dollars to make.
Stemming from the overall success of not only the blind tennis program but the entire organization, Baynham said Envision is looking to expand.
“We’re definitely trying to get bigger. We’ve been pushing it a lot through all the departments that Wendy [Fagan] teaches in, physical health and education and adapted physical fitness, so we push it through a lot of those students who are our main volunteers. We want to be as big as we can,” Baynham said.
Despite being founded in Slippery Rock by Wendy Fegan, an adapted physical activity program instructor at the university, almost 15 years ago, the organization is still relatively unknown in the area.
Officially known as Envision Blind Sports, it is a non-profit organization that wants to increase physical activity for children with visual impairments. Baynham said the annual camp at SRU during the summer is the biggest event of the year and last year’s camp had 70 campers.
Along with activities at the camp, Envision provides blind hockey and skiing at Peek’n Peak, according to Baynham. He stressed how Envision wants to show that children with visual impairments can do the activities their peers can do, with one small adaptation, and even take them back to their schools.
“A lot of our athletes may be the only blind person in their school, it’s a pretty low incidence disability, so they may be the only blind person in their school district. A lot of the times, your PE teacher may not know how to adapt for you. So, we get a lot of athletes that come in and say they haven’t been active all year, and we’re like, ‘Aww, we need to get you active at camp then!’ I think we packed in 29 or 30 sports in our week-long camp,” Baynham said.
With SRU serving as the location for many of Envision’s programs, Baynham said the support from the staff, the Aebersold Recreation Center and the community has meant the world to everyone involved with the organization.
With many of the volunteers and workers coming from SRU, their time with the organization generally extends far longer than just their time on the campus, according to Baynham.
“A lot of our volunteers are university students and then they stay for years,” Baynham said. “So, once you’re here, you’re kind of hooked. If you do it once when you’re here, it could be five or ten years later when you’re working your real job, you’ll be like, ‘I need a week off to go work a camp.’”
Aside from tennis and hockey, Baynham said Envision is looking to branch out with more sports teams.
“We’ve used a few other departments,” Baynham said. “We hope to bring blind rugby as our next sports so we’re reaching out for that. It hasn’t been played in the US yet so we’re bringing it over from Britain. We’re reaching out to our rugby team and a lot of college rugby teams, and we’re hoping to bring that in the spring. We’re always looking for new sports to add and new activities to do.”
With new ventures coming in 2020, Baynham said the easiest way to get involved is just going to the website.
“Envisionblindsports.org,” Baynham said. “That’s probably the easiest way of getting involved.”