Geoffrey Norton of Augusta, Ga., a former Tyler Junior College Tennis Tech member and wheelchair tennis coach, has one goal in mind: to make the lives of individuals with limited mobility more enjoyable.
“Interacting and getting involved through sports, building character, self value, and appreciation through competitiveness in tennis, are a few things of many, one learns along the way,” Norton said.
Norton has been playing tennis since age 5, but never really thought his life could impact others, especially those with physical challenges.
“I never had the experience with wheelchair tennis actually, until my adult life, but once I met my first group of players; the “crew,” it was in a sense infectious, which ultimately led me to some of the coaching roles, getting to really know them as individuals and as teammates.”
The bond had began to form between Norton and the crew, but there were still other issues that needed to be addressed.
His most difficult task, when he began, was communicating effectively with individuals with physical challenges. Putting himself in their shoes, was the only way, he felt able to teach technique, form and accuracy.
“I thought the most proactive way, I could teach them was to get a chair and do it myself. I wasn’t going to know how to transfer information, or what they were experiencing just from them telling me,” Norton said.
He reflected on his youth, and how he became interested in the sport.
“When I went to college, tennis wasn’t my major and it wasn’t something I planned on studying, it just happened,” Norton said.
Norton remembers being at home, with his dad, who worked with neighbors and friends, keeping youth involved in physical activity.
“My dad mentioned that day, ‘Wow, you just seem to have a knack for going out there, saying the right things at the right time, working with those kids,’ and from then on, I just thought I’ll finish college and move on. In fact, that’s how TJC came into the picture,” he said.
At TJC, Norton got his start in tennis, being a student and elevating to a staff member of the Tennis Tech program.
“I enjoyed every minute of my time at TJC, and even when I went to school there, they had a really great program. I encourage the campus to get involved and try to get members on the team who do have physical challenges,” said Norton.
“Inclusion is the big thing for students who are disabled. You don’t have a class just for wheelchair folks. You don’t have a class just for somebody who’s handicapped in some way or another. Just because someone has disadvantages, you can’t turn them down.”
John Peterson, head tennis coach, spoke about what is needed to start a wheelchair tennis program a TJC.
“For us to have our own wheelchair tennis team, would take an individual with limited mobility to say, ‘Hey, let’s have a team.'”
Peterson said, with hands rested and chair leaned backward, that with many organizations and clubs oriented around the sport, it would take little to no work to get the activity off the ground.
“All we really need is a good instructor to help guide us coaches. I personally am not experienced in wheelchair tennis, but I don’t have a problem with helping out here and there,” said Peterson.
“Everything is set in front of us. Both facilities, the Brookshire and Murphy courts were designed to accommodate wheelchair accessibilities, so it would only be a natural to get things started.”
Kathy Grant, nursing school major explained the challenges of getting those physically challenged involved in activities, primarily sports.
“I have a family member with a disability, and patience is something that must be learned when tackling a issue like this. All individuals with physical challenges have to do is ask to be included and with TJC’s many departments and organizations, that need can be made a reality. It just takes one person,” Grant said.
TJC’s tennis department is ready for change, but the need is up to individuals who want to get involved.
“Wheelchair tennis wou
ld be a great addition, but we need students who are committed and willing to play their best,” Peterson said.
“Anything that grows tennis is good for me … and if we have to recruit wheelchair players from across the states, then we can do that too. It’s something that I don’t know for sure how to help with, but I am willing and committed to learn,” he said.
” The easiest thing is to let life slap you around and pass you over, but I’m always thankful for people like Randy Snow, who keep on fighting and others who work extremely hard with handicapped individuals. It takes a really special person to do what they do, and a really determined person to step up, and ask to be included,” said Peterson.