By Rose Drebes, Edmond Life and Leisure
In his 22 years of coaching tennis, Kickingbird Director of Tennis David Minihan said operating the Play It Forward Tennis Foundation is by far the favorite part of his career.
Play It Forward is an outreach foundation that celebrates the idea that anyone from anywhere should be able to play and compete, he said.
"Our focus is diversity and inclusion, reaching out to those with special needs and those that might not have the means to afford tennis instruction,” he said. "It really tugs at my heart.”
"I believe if you ask any of my staff, they would say the same thing. It is an honor to coach these wonderful athletes.”
Minihan, a master professional with the United States Professional Tennis Association, took the helm of the Kickingbird Tennis Center on Jan. 1. Prior to Kickingbird, he operated Westwood Tennis Center in Norman, the 2007 USTA National Facility of the Year, for 21 years.
He is best-known for his work with "grassroots” tennis and has been recognized with many awards by both the USTA district and section. Minihan has also published many articles and tips which can be read by going to www.thebaseliner.net. Most recently, Minihan founded and is the chief editor of the Oklahoma tennis magazine, The Baseliner.
Minihan and his wife Lisa established the Play It Forward Tennis Foundation. He said the idea for the organization arose out of the fact that Kickingbird is a great facility.
"In 12-16 months we are going to have one of the top tennis complexes in the country,” he said. "We have a great opportunity to give back with the resources that we currently have and will have in the future. What a great way to use tennis to give back to our community.”
Play It Forward offers programs for the Down syndrome community, as well as a USTA National Junior Tennis and Learning clinic for kids who are underserved and Attire for a Smile.
Attire for a Smile was founded by the Minihans’ daughter Chloe. It partners with the Hope Center of Edmond to provide clothing and shoes to children of the community.
Reaching out to the Down syndrome community was a new experience for Minihan. In July, Kickingbird hosted the USTA Girls 18 National Selection.
"We wanted to do something special to give back to the community in conjunction with our national event,” Minihan said. "We had a customer come in to our clubhouse one day with his daughter who had Downs.”
"I went up to shake her hand and instead she gave me the biggest hug. I was sold, we were going to start a Downs program within our foundation.”
Play It Forward thus kicked off the new Downs program with a free clinic in conjunction with the national tournament. Eleven national tournament players volunteered to be a buddy to the Downs athletes.
The foundation works closely with the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, which has been a great help with advice on such things as coach-student ratio, Minihan said.
"We keep our ratio to one coach per two athletes,” he said. "In addition, we have a volunteer (a buddy) for each athlete, so they are getting great one-on-one attention.”
The foundation’s next clinic for Downs athletes will be Oct. 10.
Participants in any of the foundation’s clinics can expect to hit lots of tennis balls, Minihan said.
"We teach them the lines of the court, how to hold the racquet and the mechanics on how to hit the ball,” he said. "We also do agility training.”
"We typically have five stations that focus on different aspects of the game. After 10 minutes, the athletes will rotate to another station.”
Minihan said he hopes the young athletes will get hooked on the game.
"I think the end goal is for these athletes to fall in love with the game and want to come back for more tennis.”
Players can register online through the organization’s website, www.playitforwardedmond.com. The cost is $10, but Minihan said full scholarships are available for those that might not have the means to afford the class. All revenue generated goes to the foundation which is a 501 c3.
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