PISCATAWAY, NJ – The Rutgers women’s tennis team has engaged in a pair of unique community service projects this fall. In addition to donating tennis balls to the New Jersey Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Rutgers is also involved with a program to teach tennis through a low-level competitive league called rallyball.
For the second consecutive fall, Rutgers presented the New Jersey Chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with tennis balls. The organization uses the balls, which they cut in half, under desks to reduce the sounds of scratching, which are sensitive to those with hearing loss. Head coach Ben Bucca and the Scarlet Knights also had an opportunity to meet eight-year-old Emma Kirsch, who is one of the direct beneficiaries of the program.
“It was heartwarming to see that Emma could go from being profoundly deaf to being able to hear due to technological advances,” said Bucca. “She is an inspiration to everyone she comes in contact with, and we were happy to help in any way that was possible.”
“The thing I like about doing community service is the feeling of giving back and showing that the people at Rutgers are more then just student athletes,” said senior Jill Markowitz. “It was heartwarming to see how sweet and full of life Emma was. That’s what makes it all worth it.”
The rallyball program, which is done in conjunction with Sports for Life, Inc. and the New Brunswick and Franklin Township Parks and Recreation Departments, was made possible by a $1,000 grant awarded to Bucca from the USTA/ITA for community outreach. The game is altered slightly by modifying the traditional serve and scoring to make it easy and fun to participate the same way children play soccer, basketball and baseball at an early age.
In September, over 50 children from the New Brunswick and Franklin Township participated in the rallyball program, with members of the Rutgers women’s tennis team serving as instructors and supervisors. In January, a rallyball league will begin at the East Brunswick Racquet Club with registration slated for January 16.
“The rallyball program was great because we had the chance to expose children to tennis at an early age,” said senior Ketevan Shmakova. “We went there as a team and just had a really fun time, it didn’t feel like work at all. When we heard back later from the kids about how much it meant to them that we were there, that’s a very rewarding feeling.”