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How NW teens taught blind kids to play tennis

Joan Robinett-Wilson
All the supplies need to create your own tennis ball for the blind.

Take a large foam tennis ball, stuff a rattle in it and play a repetitive chirp to orient a person who can't see and you have the elements of a game of tennis for the blind and visually impaired. 

That's what 15 tennis players from Snohomish High School did during one week this summer for a handful of sightless kids ready to try something new.

Gabriel Wilson, a senior varsity tennis player at Snohomish High School, got a $500 grant last year from the Snohomish County Sight and Hearing Foundation to put on the first summer camp. High schooler Amy Stevens took it over this year. 

“It wasn’t just about tennis, it was about the kids having a good time and watching them improve,” says Stevens.

Technical details

According to Stevens, blind tennis is much like the real thing but with some needed modifications. First and foremost is a change to the ball — larger foam rubber balls are halved, filled with a ping-pong ball full of BBs and then put back together with fabric tape.

Rules are also slightly tailored to fit the kids’ skill level. For instance, the ball is allowed to bounce two or even three times rather than once, to help the players locate the ball.

Other revisions to the game include smaller rackets, lower nets and a machine on the court that sends out a chirp to orient blind players in the direction the ball should go.

Credit Snohomish County foundation for the sight and hearing
Blind tennis player receiving a bit of coaching from two of Snohomish High School players.

Over the past two years nearly a dozen blind campers showed up to learn the game, with the help of between two and four volunteers per camper.

Wilson told the Herald that the goal of the camp was to help the kids "get some of the basic skills down, like forehands and backhands, so that by the end of the week they have an idea of how to play.”

Eight-year-old blind tennis player Hamoody Smith told the Herald that the camp “was 100 percent fun.”

Below is a video KOMO 4 news featured about the Snohomish High School's summer camp.

Junior Communication major at Pacific Lutheran University.