As August arrives and summer comes to a close, us students prepare for the busy school year to start. At the same time, many tend to reflect upon all the fantastic and exciting things they did this summer. Many of my friends did exciting things, from road tripping to different states, to interning in a different country, even to working a prestigious newspaper company. For me, the highlight of my summer vacation occurs just before I leave. This event is highly anticipated not only by myself, but by a very special group of people near and dear to my heart.
My hometown of Edwardsville, Illinois has a very large tennis community. Having said, in the month of August, we have the opportunity to host a professional level tournament called the Edwardsville Futures. Players from all around the world travel to compete in a high level of play. The tournament brings both talent, and an audience to the city of Edwardsville. Being a college tennis player and having a family that loves the sport, we love to not only watch, but also volunteer our time to help make this event run more smoothly. One family member in particular, my twin brother Mitchell, plays a large role in an event that happens during the ten day long tournament.
For those of you who are unaware, Mitchell was diagnosed with Autism at about the age of three. Like the rest of my family, Mitchell has loved the sport of tennis since before I can remember. He has always been the number one fan for my sister’s and I’s tennis careers. At the high school, Mitchell even served as the “tennis team manager” for over ten seasons. Mitchell’s passion and enthusiasm for tennis created a fantastic opportunity that has impacted the entire community.
This year at the Edwardsville Futures tennis tournament, the fifth annual Mitch N’ Friends was held. Mitch N’ Friends is a non- profit organization that provides tennis instruction to children and adults with special needs. We figured that since Mitchell’s love for tennis was so strong, it would be great to reach out to the community and get other individuals with special needs involved. Every year, we are pleased to get around fifteen players, including Mitchell, to come out and play. Each player gets one-on-one instruction by volunteers who have tennis experience. The volunteers consist of players on the high school teams, to tennis professionals playing in the tournament, to people that love to support in general. The enthusiasm of the volunteers and the energy of the players makes Mitch N’ Friends a night to remember.
Mitch N’ Friends brings two very important components of life that one should always carry with them: a sense of community and perspective.
Community: Mitch N’ Friends provides a wonderful opportunity for persons with disabilities, as well as the people living around them. This event encourages all different types of people from around the city to come together and do something that makes a large impact. Together a community can stand. Events like Mitch N’ Friends strengthen the bond of our home town, yet also increases the connections that can help make the community a better place. Events like this encourage growth, friendship, and a healthy atmosphere. Not only is it important to “give back”, but also to continue supporting what matters most in a community, its people.
Perspective: The word “disability” often has a negative connotation following it. In my opinion, “disability” is more of an “ability” to me. For his 21 years of life, my brother Mitchell has never been given less opportunity than myself. My family and I have watched him grow into a young adult that has so much passion. Mitchell is a history buff who loves tennis, playing The Legend of Zelda, eating hamburgers, and spending time with his family and friends. To Mitchell, his life is perfect; the only way it would get better in his opinion is if Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Pope Pius XII were still alive. When I watched all the athletes of Mitch N’ Friends grind out on the court, I saw the same spirit in them as Mitchell. Each athlete would cheer with excitement and raise their hand for a high- five as they hit a ball over the net. Rather than a disability, it is such an amazing ability to appreciate and not dwell on what we do and do not have.
No matter what type of impairment, each athlete at Mitch N’ Friends enjoyed every second out on the court. Mitch N’ Friends is an event that not only strengthens a community bond, but teaches everyone a valuable lesson of gratitude. I hope everyone can be like Mitchell and his teammates and appreciate all their joys in life.