Stevensville, Mich. Two JV tennis players rolled onto the court to face off Wednesday afternoon. It was the first time anyone can remember that the players were matched up against another wheelchair opponent at the high school level.
Both Lakeshore and Mattawan High Schools have been in the same situation: they each have a wheelchair player on their JV team tennis team, but never had any opponent to really play during the season.
Caleb VanderWeide, a senior at Lakeshore is relatively new to tennis. But for the past season he's played against "able-bodied" players on opposing teams.
Wednesday afternoon he played first singles against Caleb Janssen, a sophomore at Mattawan. However, it wasn't the first time the two competed; they've faced off on the ice playing sled hockey.
"He's pretty tough" said VanderWeide.
The match ended with an 8-4 win for VanderWeide--but there were no losers here. Both Calebs said they were excited to have finally gotten the chance to play an equal opponent for their high school team.
"It's fun playing against someone your own skill level and not someone hitting twice as hard and having to duck to not get smashed by an able bodied," said Janssen jokingly.
GETTING INVOLVED IN ATHLETICS:
VanderWeide became interested in tennis after watching a friend play varsity last year. After participating in several wheelchair camps and adapting his athletic skills from basketball and sled hockey, VanderWeide tried out for Lakeshore's JV team.
"It's pretty emotional," said Lakeshore Varsity tennis coach Curtis Partee when he explained how VanderWeide tried out: "we were out running lines, he shows up and starts running lines with us and he said 'coach i'm trying out,' and I was like 'okay.' Then one of my captains from last year went over to Caleb and said 'hey, welcome to our tennis family.'"
The rest is history. Coach Partee said he has done extensive research on the requirements for wheelchair tennis, including the types of chair and tires needed as well as the two-bounce rule for players.
But despite the apparent difference between running and rolling across the court, Partee said everything else is the same.
"This kid has been out every day, when we do eight laps on the track he does eight laps," Partee added, "Caleb is a tennis player and that's how we look at it."