ESD Tennis Buddies Up to Teach Down Syndrome Athletes

School provides courts, volunteers to promote fitness, friendships

Dallas’ growing Buddy Up Tennis program had a need. Episcopal School of Dallas had facilities and people who could help.

As a volunteer with one and girls tennis program director for the other, coach Julie Schiller knew Buddy Up was evaluating new clinic locations and that ESD has six beautiful tennis courts that don’t get as much off-season use.

“We were happy to offer the courts up and make them available for the program,” she said.

Sophomore Dalyan Prieto-Akmansoy works with Wolfgang Morin

Buddy Up Tennis for children and adults with Down syndrome combines tennis, fitness, and social activities. The Dallas Chapter, launched in March 2019, has grown to be the largest in the nation.

“It’s a program that is set up to give the participates something to look forward to, and just an outlet for them to get a chance to be physical and develop their skills,” Schiller said.

Each week, athletes are partnered with volunteer Buddies for a clinic consisting of 30 minutes of fitness conditioning followed by 60 minutes of tennis instruction.

“It is a unique way to have a chance to volunteer and do some good,” the coach said, adding her students have responded enthusiastically to the opportunity. “They get to be out there and see those smiles and make a difference.”

ESD junior Sophia Ukeni and sophomore Dalyan Prieto-Akmansoy were among the ESD students quoted in a story posted on

“Being surrounded by such hardworking athletes who were determined to learn and develop their skills in the sport was extremely rewarding,” Ukeni said.

Prieto-Akmansoy enjoys the warmups where participants jump hurdles, walk balance beams, and run around cones. “It’s so nice seeing their faces after they finish because they look genuinely happy and feel accomplished.”

Athletes are partnered with their volunteer Buddies to provide support, develop friendships, and reinforce the coaches’ instructions. Coaches implement the tennis curriculum specifically created for athletes with Down syndrome.

“The effects on the Buddy Up athletes are tremendous,” said Schiller, who’s been involved with the program for two years. “There are ‘bigger picture’ things we are working on with the participants like social interaction and lifestyle development, while also working on physical fitness.”

The Buddy Up Tennis program serves athletes as young as 5 and has one participant approaching 55, according to the Buddy Up For Life website.

“Tennis is medium for us to be out there, but it is a great thing for them to work on, too,” Schiller said. “I think it’s social, it’s active, and it gives them a chance to do something that might not always be available to them.

“You can tell the kids are having a blast when we are there, and the personalities really come out,” she said. “Even the parents too: They come up to us afterward, and you can really feel their gratitude and get a sense of what it really means to them.”

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