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No downturn for this event

No downturn for this event
(Raul Roa staff potographer)

With the economy still struggling, Vince Schmidt has seen how some businesses and corporations have scaled back or stopped their donations to charitable organizations.

Luckily, sponsors have seen the value and viability of the organization Schmidt helped establish, the Jensen-Schmidt Tennis Academy for Special Needs Individuals, which has been able to thrive despite the tough times.

“A great example of that is one of our corporate sponsors was going through bankruptcy and they had to step aside,” Schmidt said. “One of their big rivals contacted us and said ‘We’ve been trying to talk to you about coming in and being a sponsor for five years.’ So they stepped up and came through for us.

“We have companies that have a great allegiance to us. Even through the economy is still kind of rough right now; they see enough value in what we do to still want to be a part of it.”


For the eighth year, the Burbank Tennis Center hosted an installment of the academy in a three-day event Monday through Wednesday that featured 100 participants who ranged from from young children to older adults. It was one of 11 stops the academy will make across the nation this year.

Former French Open doubles champions Luke and Murphy Jensen teamed up with Schmidt, a tennis professional, to form the organization. Schmidt has been a tennis pro in the St. Louis area for nearly two decades, working with youth and adults. Over the years, he has worked at the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, as well as with Assn. of Tennis Professionals and World Tennis Assn. tour players and Special Olympics athletes.

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

Children and adults with Down syndrome and other afflictions took part in the academy for free. Equipment, food and refreshments were also provided at no cost.


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.

The ability for the athletes to attend at no cost was provided by the Burbank-based Greenlight Foundation. Under the direction of Bill Greene, the organization has sponsored the local event all eight years.

Green said despite the tough times, his company is dedicated to continuing its sponsorship of the event.

“With the economy the way it is, it’s even more important for us to sponsor an event like this,” he said. “Most of the families with kids like these, they’re not wealthy. We’re just happy to be a part of an event like this.”

Burbank Tennis Center Director Steve Starleaf said he wouldn’t be able to accommodate the academy for three days if it wasn’t for corporate sponsors like Community Chevrolet, which subsidizes the center for lost revenue from court usage during the event.

“We probably lose from 150-170 court hours during an event like this,” Starleaf said. “We wouldn’t be able to provide the center for three days if it weren’t for sponsors like Community Chevrolet.”

The event also benefited from an army of volunteers, including members of the Burbank High Key Club, the Burroughs High Key Club and the McCambridge Park Ladies Tennis Club, who helped the event run smoothly. The Key Club members served as “buddies” for many of younger athletes, helping them get to the various stations and generally assisting them throughout the three days.

Although temperatures were warm during the three-day event, participants had fun taking part in a wide variety of activities. Athletes were given the opportunity to improve their tennis skills, as instructors put the players through practices, skills drills, coordination exercises and various other physical activities at a variety of stations.


Athletes, along with family members, praised the academy and the Burbank Tennis Center for providing a fun and educational environment.

“This is year three for us and it has been absolutely fabulous,” said Claudine Bell, who was attending the event with her granddaughter, Ashley, 15. “They get to experience play with other kids like them. And the relationships they are able to make are really special. People keep coming back to this event every year because it’s so wonderful. The kids look forward to this every year.”

One of the participants, James Steffensen, 47, said he was happy to be able to play tennis and take part in various games at the academy.

“Everybody is so nice and they help us do a lot of different things,” he said. “I also like that I am able to meet a lot of people and talk to them. I am very happy to be here.”

Michael Harlan, 27, said he felt much the same way.

“I like tennis. I like to do the backhand the most,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to play.”

It was not only the participants and their families who were impressed with what was accomplished at the event. On Tuesday, Mayor Dave Golonski paid a visit to the academy and took part in the festivities.

“We are very fortunate to have a facility in our city like the Burbank Tennis Center that can host events like these,” Golonski said.