Tennis great works with military families
RICHMOND, Va. -- Stan Smith, once the top-ranked tennis player in the world and a champion at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, was in Richmond on Saturday to give military families and disabled veterans some pointers.
Smith, who spent about an hour hitting balls at the Country Club of Virginia, was brought in by the USTA/Virginia, the United States Tennis Association's state chapter.
The event was part of the chapter's ongoing efforts to bring tennis to military families, deployed soldiers and injured vets.
"The main thing about tennis is that you want to keep it fun," said Smith, who won the U.S. Open in 1971 and Wimbledon in 1972 as well as several doubles titles.
USTA/Virginia has set up programs at several military bases throughout the state, including Fort Eustis, Fort Belvoir and Langley Air Force Base.
Wayne McCoy, president of USTA/Virginia, said his organization is working with the military bases to teach soldiers and their families how to play the game.
Gabriella Robinson, whose husband, Brandon, is stationed at Fort Eustis, said the program has been good for her and her two children.
"When you are (the child of a military member) it's hard to meet people and get to know them. This is a good way to get them out," said Robinson, who also has taken up tennis.
In addition to working with the bases, USTA/Virginia participates in Adopt-a-Unit, which helps get deployed service members some necessities.
"What we do is we send the usual things you think about: soaps and shampoos. But the other thing we do ... is send them the nets, the balls, the rackets," McCoy said. "It allows deployed military to be able to play some short-court tennis."
Because soldiers don't have a lot of space, USTA sends small-court equipment that's designed for teaching children.
As part of its effort with the military, USTA/Virginia also teaches wounded soldiers how to play wheelchair tennis.
Bruce Patton, who lost both legs in the Vietnam War, took up wheelchair basketball after leaving the hospital in the early 1970s, and tennis about 30 years ago. He competes in tournaments and is a wheelchair tennis instructor.
He said tennis -- or any sport -- is of major importance to injured soldiers.
"Getting out there and doing something is a whole lot better than sitting around drinking, thinking about problems, taking drugs," Patton said.
"We want to cut out that potential, get them out there, get them active and do something good."