TORONTO – Claire Buchanan, high performance coordinator for wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis at the Ontario Para Sport Network, wants to increase participation in the latter sport especially with youth-aged athletes.
With the help of a $10,000 grant from the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s 2023-24 Paralympic Sport Development Fund (PSDF), supported by the Paralympic Foundation of Canada, a new program for junior aged participants (seven to 15 years-old) will be launched next month at Variety Village in Toronto.
“For wheelchair tennis in Ontario, we have found that there's not a big participation number in juniors,” said Buchanan, who knows something about Para sport. She was a national level wheelchair basketball player and is now a member of the women’s national Para ice hockey team.
‘’So we really wanted to target younger kids getting into the sport.”
The program will be based at the indoor tennis courts at Variety Village in Scarborough, a big facility that holds a wide variety of sport programs already.
‘’Our goal is to launch by the end of September, and we are working with Variety Village to promote and run the program. We're using each other's platforms when the registration starts on September 1.”
The PSDF funding will provide crucial services to the development and continuity of the program.
‘’The grant itself will help with securing the court time and assure we will be able to lock that in with a consistent schedule through the year,” said Buchanan, who is looking at late afternoon after-school hours for the program.
‘’We are excited to have this connection with the CPC and to have their support. It takes everybody to not only start a sport but keep it going and even more importantly do it the right way.
‘’This will get kids involved in wheelchair tennis and grow the sport in Ontario. Right now, we have some great athletes that are on their way and representing Canada. We hope to continue that with a whole new generation of athletes excited about the sport.”
Buchanan grew up as a child with a disability and she knows the role sport can play in the physical and mental development of young people in wheelchairs.
‘’At the base of it, sports are fun, right?” she said. ‘’That's why we get into it. I know growing up as a kid and being able to have those similar opportunities, trying out sports and making friends – those kinds of community connections are very important for all aspects of development and life skills outside of the sport.”
The Ontario Para Network is the governing body for wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis in the province. Its mission is to grow opportunities for participation in adaptive sports.
The organization offers opportunities for athletes with and without physical disabilities to participate in recreational, competitive, and high-performance programs. It also develops, supports, and advocates for athletes, coaches, and volunteers to build strong and inclusive sport communities.
‘’At the end of the day, we just want to give the opportunity for young kids to come in and have fun learning how to play wheelchair tennis and hopefully want to stay in it and see where they can go with the sport.”