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Academy helping athletes

Jeff Tully

When the Burbank Tennis Center was still in the planning stages,

Steve Starleaf had a definite vision of what he hoped the facility

would be.

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Along with hosting tournaments and serving as a place where area

youngsters could learn the sport, the executive director also wanted

the venue to be able to host fundraising and other events that would

benefit underprivileged and challenged athletes.

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The Tennis Center will be hosting one of those special events

Monday and Tuesday.

Former French Open doubles champions Luke and Murphy Jensen have

teamed up with professional Vince Schmidt to form the Jensen-Schmidt

Tennis Academy for Individuals with Down Syndrome. The academy will

be held at the center both days from 8 a.m. to noon.

Children and young adults with Down syndrome can take part in the

academy for free. They need to show up Monday and sign up. Equipment

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will be provided and individuals will be able to keep the tennis

rackets and other items so they can practice on their own.

The academy was established and designed to meet the

sport-specific needs of children and young adults with the

affliction. Along with tennis instruction, athletes will learn

physical training and get the opportunity to take part in games and

other activities.

“We at the Burbank Tennis Center are very happy to be a part of

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such a great event,” Starleaf said. “This is a very good cause and it

will benefit some very special athletes.”

Starleaf said he has received a lot of support from sponsors to

help put on the event.

“Our sponsors have been great,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been

able to help hold an event like this without them.”

With a trained staff of instructors, academy coaches teach

athletes through motivational exercises and positive reinforcement.

“They even use special equipment and chairs so the Down syndrome

players can play,” Starleaf said. “It’s really great.

“And just to see how much the boys and girls enjoy playing and

taking part is inspiring.”

The academy boasts that by playing tennis, individuals with

afflictions like Down syndrome can enhance their physical

conditioning as well as their social and mental abilities.

Luke and Murphy, known for their enthusiastic and boisterous style

on the court, have enjoyed a long and successful career in tennis.

They were ranked as high as fourth in doubles and captured the French

Open title in 1993.

Schmidt has been a tennis professional in the St. Louis area for

more than a decade, working with youth and adults. He is currently

the director of the Tennis at Glen Echo Country Club in Normandy, Mo.

Over the years, he has worked at the prestigious Nick Bollettieri

Tennis Academy, and well as with Assn. of Tennis Professionals and

World Tennis Assn. tour players and Special Olympics athletes.


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