Special Pops Tennis helps build social and life skills for athletes with mental disabilities
by Sally Litchfield
August 24, 2013 11:30 PM | 2074 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Special Pops Tennis Program Director Paula Sumple assists Anna Sheppard, 20, of Marietta with her tennis swing Monday at Harrison Tennis Center. About 44 volunteers participated in the program, half of them teenagers, to help teach the fundamentals of the game to athletes with intellectual disabilities. <br>Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Special Pops Tennis Program Director Paula Sumple assists Anna Sheppard, 20, of Marietta with her tennis swing Monday at Harrison Tennis Center. About 44 volunteers participated in the program, half of them teenagers, to help teach the fundamentals of the game to athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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Special Pops Tennis enriches the lives of children and adults with mental disabilities through an adaptive tennis program.

“We use tennis as the centerpiece to have athletes and volunteers to come together. Once we’re together, we build healthy relationships that allows those athletes to develop better social skills and life skills with the purpose of being a better citizen and feeling better about themselves,” said Jim Hamm, executive director of Special Pops Tennis.

The year-round program includes tennis instruction at all skill levels, league play and tournament play. Special Pops, a nonprofit grassroots organization, provides all training and equipment (racquets, balls and nets) free of charge. Some fees may be incurred for participation at the tournament level.

The program is available through 14 metro Atlanta tennis facilities including Harrison Tennis Center and Fair Oaks Tennis Center in Cobb County. Harrison offers spring, summer and fall classes on Mondays at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. and at Fair Oaks in spring on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

An important aspect of Special Pops is building relationships.

“These athletes feel like they’re included in their community. They have a relationship with people in a safe and nurturing environment. They thrive when they’re put in that situation,” Hamm said.

Hamm started Special Pops in 2005 with other tennis enthusiasts who shared a love for serving others.

“Our program allows our athletes to meet new friends and to travel to new places. They begin to become invested in the lives of other athletes as well as the volunteers,” he said.

The volunteers benefit, too.

“What we hear from our volunteers is that they want to get their tennis team involved because it puts them back in touch with what the spirit of the competition and spirit of the sport is,” said Hamm, an east Cobb resident.

“(Those with mental disabilities) live their life unconditionally. They don’t have good days and bad days. They just have another day, and they take it however it comes. We leave fulfilled and feeling like we’ve gained more than we could give and that enriches our lives as well,” he said.

Special Pops improves lives, Hamm said.

“By getting (those with mental disabilities) involved in tennis they become better students, better employees for those who have jobs. They have something that all of us enjoy — something to look forward to,” Hamm said.

To register for the program or learn more about Special Pops, visit specialpopstennis.com, call (770) 998-7826 or email serve@

specialpopstennis.com.

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