JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano is on a path towards becoming the school of choice for athletes with special needs.
COACH KIRK ORAHOOD, CENTER, LEADS PRACTICE WITH GIANNA MANTUCCA, LEFT, AND LANDON SACHS, RIGHT, AT JSERRA HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ON FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022.
Twin brothers Keith and Kurt Orahood, longtime tennis coaches at JSerra, recently started an adaptive wheelchair youth tennis program for players with disabilities.
The program, which the brothers run through their club program, T3Tennis, serves youngsters ages 8 to 18 and is believed to be the first of its kind in south Orange County.
Keith Orahood, JSerra’s assistant coach under Kurt, was inspired to start an adaptive tennis program after coaching Lions’ sophomore Landon Sachs, a wheelchair bound member of the school’s tennis team.
The California Interscholastic Federation, the governing body of high school sports in the state, allows players in wheelchairs to compete against players with no disabilities under slightly modified rules, Orahood said.
In May, Sachs competed in his first ever USTA Wheelchair Tournament, finishing first in the 18 and under division.
“When Landon agreed to play tennis here and when I saw the smile it brought to his face on a daily basis, I thought that magic could go on with other kids,” Keith Orahood said. “I had the heartstrings tugged on and thought I want to do something – I want to give back to the community and to some kids.”
Keith went on to earn coaching certification in wheelchair tennis with the United States Tennis Association and the brothers launched the first six-week session in April. The second session just got underway, with instruction taking place each Wednesday.
One of the participants, Gianna Mantucca, 14, is already a competitive swimmer and water polo player and is taking up tennis for the first time. The Santa Margarita High School freshman removes her prosthetic leg while in the wheelchair.
“This is the first experience I’ve ever had with tennis,” Mantucca said. “It’s a lot of fun learning new things and meeting other people who also have disabilities.”
JSerra’s tennis players are also involved, serving as volunteer coaches.
“It’s a great program and great coaches,” said Viana Poggi, who played for the Lions’ frosh-soph team last season. “I love the team environment. The fact that they are doing who really want to enjoy tennis, I think it’s great. I just think it is very inspiring to watch them. It really makes you want to do your best as well and they are just the sweetest kids. I think by them coming her every single day and trying is amazing.”
Senior Natalie Walters said she wanted to help as soon as she heard the Orahoods were starting the program and has built an Instagram page to promote the classes.
“It’s a really good feeling, just being able to be out here to help them play, just because you can tell they love to be out here,” Walters said. “They are so fun to be around. I walk out of here feeling like a way better person than when I came in.”
FROM RIGHT, CRUZ WILKINSON GIVES TEN-YEAR-OLD MILES MCINTOSH TIPS ON IMPROVING HIS SWING DURING TENNIS PRACTICE AT JSERRA HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ON FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022. PHOTO: DREW KELLEY
JSerra tennis player Christopher Kempf said the budding tennis players improve with each session.
“They all have a good stick to stick-to-itiveness,” Kempf said. “They are all amazing athletes.”
JSerra athletic director Chris Ledyard said the adaptive tennis program is the first step to bringing additional adaptive sports such as wrestling, track and field and swimming.
“Right away, we said we are totally open to this,” said Ledyard, when approached by Keith Orahood about having a complete program of adaptive sports. “That would be really cool to have kids come here and know that they can play a sport right now, while they are here.”
Once established, JSerra would be able to compete against other adaptive sports teams.
“Everybody is excited about this next step,” Ledyard said. “We’re taking our time. It’s going to take a while, but we want to become a school where we know we can have kids wrestling in the CIF, going right after whatever, it is they want to achieve.”
JSerra parents and board members have provided the funding for the specially designed wheelchairs, which cost $3,000 each.
LANDON SACHS RUNS TENNIS DRILLS DURING PRACTICE AT JSERRA HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ON FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022. PHOTO: DREW KELLEY
Outside donations are also helping.
Tennis Serves Others, an Orange County nonprofit which sponsors a variety of tennis themed activities, recently donated $3,000 to the adaptive tennis program.
Four members of the nonprofit are also JSerra parents.
FROM LEFT, GIANNA MANTUCCA AND LANDON SACHS RUN TENNIS DRILLS DURING PRACTICE AT JSERRA HIGH SCHOOL IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO ON FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022. PHOTO: DREW KELLEY
“We’re hopeful to partner with them and see what else we can do to help them,” Tennis Serves Others CEO Kelley McBride said. “We are driven to help youth. They want to continue to grow this program and that is what we want to do is help these new programs get off the ground. We’re super proud of them.”
JSerra dean of athletics, Amy Hemphill, said the adaptive tennis program “is the absolute best thing that has happened to JSerra this year.”
“This has allowed us to grow, in the fact that these kids have so many abilities, and not disabilities,” Hemphill said. “And it has made our own students realize how much harder it is for a student with a disability to play a sport that they just take for granted.”