BURBANK TENNIS CENTER — Since its opening 13 years ago, the Burbank Tennis Center has held its share of elite events.
For a number of years the facility hosted a professional event that featured the likes of Andy Roddick, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang.
But for the individuals who were instrumental in initially bringing the Burbank Tennis Center to the city, they envisioned a venue that would provide recreation and instruction for the masses, not just a place for the tennis elite.
That dedication to the area population was evident Monday at the center. In an event sponsored by the Burbank Tennis Center and the city of Burbank, more than 100 special-needs individuals were treated to a festive party.
The event began with a variety of tennis instruction stations, where individuals were helped with various drills. Following a brisk saunter around center court, there was a visit by Santa Claus, who handed out gifts to the athletes. The event ended with a pizza meal.
Burbank Mayor Anja Reinke also attended the event, and even helped out with one of the drills.
Along with members of the BCR “a place to grow,” members of the Tri-Valley Special Olympics, the Down Syndrome Assn. of Los Angeles and the ARC, a private organization for special-needs individuals in North Hollywood, were in attendance.
Burbank Tennis Center Director Steve Starleaf said events like these are what his organization strives to provide in the community.
“This is the whole idea of what a community tennis center is supposed to be,” said Starleaf, whose facility also hosts the annual Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Individuals with Down Syndrome during the summer. “This is a special population of tennis players, just like Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. Those athletes who play tennis love it as much as the pros do, and they are tennis players nonetheless.
“We wanted to reach out and include this portion of the population, and give them the opportunity to come out and play, have fun and enjoy the game.”
Along with volunteers and tennis instructors from the Burbank Tennis Center, members of the McCambridge Park Ladies Tennis Club were also in attendance to lend a helping hand. The organization also helped collect the toys and presents that were given out by Santa.
Reinke said she was impressed with the time and effort that was put in to stage Monday’s event.
“It’s really wonderful to see,” she said. “We like to serve everybody in the community, and the tennis center has done a great job doing that. We also like all of our city facilities to support the non-profits as much as possible, raising funds with events like these.”
Starleaf said along with the summer Jensen-Schmidt event, he would also like to add a second three-day event during the year to accommodate the special-needs athletes.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Starleaf said.