County hosts annual wheelchair-tennis tournament
By Jason A. Smith
For more than a decade, Harlon Matthews has worked to give disabled athletes a platform to showcase their talents.
While he acknowledges that this endeavor has been increasingly successful over the years, there’s just one piece missing – having people come out to watch them play.
Participants at the America Wheelchair Tennis Championship tournament. Photo by Nick Vassy
“We have great sponsors, and now we have lots of players and volunteers,” explained Matthews therapeutic recreation specialist for Henry County Parks and Recreation. “The one thing we’re lacking is spectators.”
Matthews made his remarks Friday while overseeing the America Wheelchair Tennis Championship tournament at Richard Craig Park in McDonough. One hundred players from across the nation took part in the 11th annual event, which featured competitors in singles and doubles competitions.
Matthews has coordinated wheelchair sports for the county for 11 years. He said his goal, when he was hired in April 2006, was to “revamp” Henry’s wheelchair sports program – a goal in which reported significant progress over the years.
“We’ve gone from no participants in April of 2006 to, now we have a kids program with, like, 12 kids, and that’s a partnership with the school system. In 2007, we started a wheelchair tennis tournament. We had 17 players registered. Now, 11 years later, we have 82.”
Matthews added that the annual tournament has been gaining in popularity among wheelchair-bound players – including those beyond county lines.
“We’re not just attracting local Georgia players anymore,” he said. “We have players from all over the United States. With the great sponsorships we have, we’ve been able to create some really good incentives for people that come.”
Military veterans were also recognized with a presentation in their honor. The tournament also included, for the first time this year, competitors in two new divisions. A quad division geared toward quadriplegics, and a “Sets for Vets” division comprising disabled veterans in doubles matches, were included among the festivities for the weekend-long event.
Matthews emphasized that this year’s additions to the championships are designed to expose more people to what wheelchair sports is all about.
“It’s not just some rehab/physical therapy thing,” he said. “It’s sports, and these are athletes. This is competition.”
The America Wheelchair Tennis Championship is presented each year by Parks and Recreation and was made possible by support from local community sponsors.
For more information or to volunteer with wheelchair sports in the county, call Harlon Matthews at 404-308-2414, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.