There has been an active Special Olympics scene in Lake Geneva for many years. But this summer, the Lake Geneva area will break new ground for the state of Wisconsin.
On July 20, Lake Geneva Tennis will partner with Betty Aguirre and the local Special Olympics agency to host a unified doubles tennis tournament for the first time in Wisconsin Special Olympics history. The tournament will be held at Lake Geneva Tennis at 630 Veterans Parkway, Lake Geneva, WI.
Special Olympics Unified sports involve athletes with disabilities playing alongside partners without disabilities, which creates a deeper level of inclusion and bonding for everyone involved.
Aguirre and Lake Geneva Tennis’ Paul Lauterbach have been working together to iron out the details of hosting a unified tournament at Lake Geneva Tennis for about a year now. But for Aguirre, the idea has been floating around much longer than that.
“I myself do coach tennis, and this is the sport I dearly love,” Aguirre said. “This is part of my bucket list, and I’ve had it on the back burner, but now it’s finally going to come true.”
While Lake Geneva Tennis has been hosting monthly tennis programming for the Special Olympics athletes for about a year, the goal of this new tournament is to keep expanding the number of opportunities available for local athletes.
The tournament will not be restricted to just local athletes, though, as duos from across the state will be allowed to enter as well. By drawing in people from elsewhere in the state, Aguirre hopes that their tournament will be just the first of many.
“I’m sure the first year out of the gate, people will go and say ‘Hey, you missed a great tournament, you’ve got to go if they run it again.’ By the second year, who knows, we might have more than the first year,” Aguirre said.
When Aguirre pitched having a unified doubles tournament to her superiors at the Special Olympics, they were enthusiastically interested in the idea. And a few of them will be in attendance to see how it goes.
The tournament will emphasize inclusion, but it will also be about playing competitive tennis. The rules will be the same as any other tennis match, and it will skew toward the more experienced group of Special Olympians.
With this being the first tournament of its kind in the state of Wisconsin, Lauterbach does not have any tournament specifics set in stone yet, waiting instead to see how many participants there will be before drawing up any brackets.
However, after this year’s run, he should have a better idea of what to expect if it turns out to be as big of a success as they expect.
“This is the inaugural tournament, so for us we’re very excited about it, and it’s also going to be a bit of a learning curve,” Lauterbach said. “It’s a tournament format, but the emphasis is getting as many matches as we can play and getting more and more experience.”
The tournament will be free for participants, with the cost covered by the Walworth County Special Olympics agency to make sure everyone who wants to participate will be able to.
Registration for the event will be at 9:30, and after some time for practice and an opening ceremony, matches will begin at 11, and should last for most of the day in a rewarding and fun event.
“It’s just a great experience for all the participants, spectators, players, volunteers — everybody. It’s a feel-good day,” Lauterbach said.