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Special event returns to Burbank Tennis Center

The Burbank Tennis Center has built a reputation for hosting community events that benefit a wide variety of individuals.

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. 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.

The venue will be hosting one of those special events Monday through Wednesday.

For the eighth year, the Burbank Tennis Center will be hosting the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals.


Former French Open doubles champions Luke and Murphy Jensen teamed up with professional Vince Schmidt to form the organization.

Children and young adults with Down syndrome and other afflictions can take part in the academy for free. Equipment will be provided and individuals will be able to keep the tennis rackets and other items so they can practice on their own.

“Everything will be provided for them. All they need to do is show up,” Starleaf said. “We are open to any and all individuals who have special needs.”

The academy was established and designed to meet the sport-specific needs of children and young adults with special needs. Along with tennis instruction, athletes will learn physical training and get the opportunity to take part in games and other activities.


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.

The academy boasts that by playing tennis, individuals with special needs 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 two decades, working with youth and adults. 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.

Along with the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals, Starleaf said another organization will be taking to the courts at the Burbank Tennis Center. Starleaf said ACEing Autism, based in Burbank, will be holding workouts at the center starting in September. The organization is geared for youngsters with Autism.

“We want to expand to include new organizations like [ACEing Autism],” Starleaf said. “Really, that’s what we’re all about.”