FAU senior starts Adaptive Tennis program

Oscar Fonseca is bringing one of the most popular sports in Florida to local children with disabilities.

Video courtesy of Owl TV

Katrina Scales, News Editor



rowing up, FAU senior pre-med student and tennis player Oscar Fonseca became close with his cousin Jose Miguel, who has Down syndrome. Despite facing school deadlines, he dedicates his Saturday afternoons to teaching tennis to local kids with disabilities.

Fonseca, 21, started the OWLS Adaptive Tennis Club less than a year ago and already has a flock of nine local preteens, all on the autism spectrum, participating in his weekly meetings. During the week, he is a full-time biology student, applying for medical school and clocking long hours in the science lab.

Oscar Fonseca at the Athletics Tennis Complex on the Boca campus. Katrina Scales | News Editor

“I think I am fortunate for having such experience with my cousin because it has allowed me to understand the many hardships that people with disabilities go through,” Fonseca said. “Having been part of my cousin’s many life challenges and accomplishments has allowed me to understand that everyone must be treated the same way, with the same respect and dignity.”

Originally from Ecuador, Fonseca played tennis competitively before moving to Florida five years ago. He previously volunteered for “Fundacion Escuela Ecuatoriana de Tenis en Ruedas,” a foundation in Ecuador providing tennis lessons to kids with cerebral palsy.

Fonseca’s club is strictly recreational with no pressure to compete with other players. The organization is free and open to both students and non-students.

After some practice shots with the foam “adaptive” tennis balls, the kids practice hitting real ones over the net. The kids are constantly shouting words of encouragement to each other, echoed by their parents on the sidelines.

Sam, a participant of OWLS Adaptive Tennis Club, poses with her racket after a lesson. Katrina Scales | News Editor

Fonseca enures each participant has enough chances to perfect their aim.

“It’s special. It’s different than teaching with no disabilities. You have to have special care with them. You have to know that they’re no different, but they learn different,” Fonseca said. “So, be friendly with them and make sure you’re supportive and that they have other people around that support them.”

Patrick, 13, is one of the oldest kids in the club. He’s in eighth grade and enrolled in AP Spanish. His mother, Consuelo Guerrero, said her son is improving on multiple levels thanks to Fonseca’s club.

Guerrero expressed her gratitude that her son finally has a chance to be physically active. Fonseca’s patience is a gift that Guerrero, a special needs teacher herself, said she understands.

“If I put him in a regular tennis class, first of all, I’d have to pay. Second, it wouldn’t work because of his schoolwork,” she said. “Third, all the other kids are going to be, like, perfect and he’s going to be left behind. Oscar will never leave any child behind.”

It’s uncommon for programs like Fonseca’s Adaptive Tennis club to be free. Most parents can expect to pay at least $100 per session and often, a long car ride.   

Tennis is a budding sport for individuals with autism and other neural disorders. It’s an individualistic sport and requires strategic-thinking skills. Since there is no team to depend on, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with being solely responsible for progress can quickly build confidence and self-esteem.

“In tennis, players must keep their eye on the ball at all times so their hands can quickly react. This type of focus can aid in the development and progression of a child’s hand-eye coordination that can translate outside of tennis,” according to the Autism Society.

Though the club’s roster is growing, Fonseca said he’s uncertain about the future of the organization following his graduation in the spring.

But by working with local organizations like the East Coast Tennis Foundation, who provides the club’s equipment, Fonseca hopes to get others involved before he graduates.

Katrina Scales is the news editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].