By Jason A. Smith
A group of wheelchair athletes will compete this weekend, in an award-winning tournament which focuses on their abilities.
The 5th annual Geranium Festival Wheelchair Tennis Tournament takes place through Sunday, at Richard Craig Park, in McDonough. The tournament began on Friday.
Harlon Matthews, a therapeutic recreation specialist for the Henry County Parks & Recreation Department, oversees wheelchair sports in the county. He devised the concept for the tournament.
"When I first had the idea for the tournament, there was already a Geranium Festival, able-bodied tournament," said Matthews. "I wanted to add a wheelchair division."
He said one difference between his tournament, and the one for able-bodied individuals, is that the wheelchair event is sanctioned by the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
"Wheelchair tennis players earn points, that are applied to national rankings," said Matthews.
Seven of the 29 individuals in the tournament, which features players from the Southeastern United States, are from Henry. However, Matthews said interest in the wheelchair program, which has grown in recent years, has faltered slightly this year.
"We're down by only seven people, but I think that's due to the economy," said Matthews. "It's not so much that they can't afford the $50 entry fee, as much as hotel and travel expenses."
Terry Nash, therapeutic recreation coordinator for Henry County Parks & Recreation, said the county's tournament earned a distinction in 2010, when it was named the USTA Southern Wheelchair Tournament of the Year.
"A lot of it has to do with the Henry County hospitality, and the way the tournament is run very professionally," she said. "It's been awesome to see how the tournament has grown."
Nash said athletes in the local wheelchair tennis program are very dedicated to the sport.
"Our athletes practice two or three times a week, and they play in leagues around the state to improve," said Nash.
For more information on the tournament, contact Harlon Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (770) 288-7293.