U-M Adaptive Sports & Fitness Program finds success at national tournament
A first-of-its-kind event for the University of Michigan happened this spring and two School of Kinesiology students were a part of it.
Kinesiology graduate students Matt Fritzie (Movement Science) and Chris Kelley (Sport Management) were among the six athletes representing the U-M Adaptive Sports & Fitness Program at the Wheelchair Tennis Collegiate National Championships at the United States Tennis Association National Campus in Orlando, Florida from April 15-18, 2021. This was the Adaptive Sports program’s first opportunity to represent the university at a national competition, where they competed against 27 athletes from the top eight national programs.
This marquee event offers a first glimpse of the next generation of athletes that may represent Team USA at the Paralympics.
U-M finished second overall, with Kelley placing third in the Tier 1 Singles division. Kelley also received the Sportsmanship Award and was named an Academic All-American.
“Attending the 2021 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships is a milestone for the University of Michigan Adaptive Sports & Fitness program,” said Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, the program’s director. “This time last year, the program was still in its very early stages of growth. We had just two student-athletes, we did not have formal training support, and we were facing the difficulties that came with the COVID-19 shutdown. Despite those challenges, the program has grown remarkably over the past year and that is a testament to the advocacy, perseverance, passion, and teamwork that it takes to not only build a new program, but one that challenges the social, institutional, and political barriers when it comes to equity for people with physical disabilities.”
Both Fritzie and Kelley said it was an honor to represent the university as a student-athlete.
Kelley isn’t a stranger to the national stage, making two previous trips during his junior and senior seasons at Ferris State University. His tennis career started in high school when he would drive with his dad to Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to practice and compete in the area’s only wheelchair tennis program. Additionally, he started playing for Team USA in his junior year of college and is currently ranked second in the United States Men’s Junior Division.
Kelley said that Kinesiology’s Sport Management degree and the opportunity to grow U-M’s Adaptive Sports program were the driving factors behind his decision to come to Ann Arbor. He is looking to combine his love for sports and his undergraduate degree in Social Work to help people.
“I enjoyed every aspect of coaching tennis at a local club and high school while I was doing my social work internship. I got that opportunity to help people, which is why I was going into social work, and I thought I could do that through sports,” Kelley explained. “So far, the Sport Management classes have been better than anything I expected and the assignments have challenged me academically.”
Fritzie has been playing wheelchair tennis for the past four years, but his love for the sport goes beyond just playing: he is an enthusiastic advocate for wheelchair tennis and all adaptive sports. Fritzie suffered a spinal cord injury 10 years ago and found adaptive sports as an avenue to increase his well-being and physical activity. While living in Louisville, Kentucky, he did neurological research on spinal cord injury recovery for a medical supply company and assisted in a grassroots campaign to raise awareness for wheelchair tennis programs in the area.
Fritzie added that his Movement Science degree is allowing him to continue developing his academic interests. “I’m currently studying neuro-rehabilitation and biomechanics applications and I want to use these skillsets and foundations to create a difference in neuro-rehabilitation for individuals with mobility impairments,” he said.
Up next for the team are summer regional tournaments across the Midwest and South.
“It’s a new kind of frontier and hopefully it will become more of a mainstay as things progress across more regions of the country and different resources and stakeholders work together to provide that development,” Fritzie said.
As the program’s visibility and size continue to grow, U-M Adaptive Sports & Fitness hopes to gain even more internal and external interest and support to help keep the momentum going.
“Over the past year, we advocated through multiple channels for student-athletes with physical disabilities to get the equitable access they deserve to wellness opportunities and the resources that are afforded to their able-bodied peers. We are thankful for the partnerships and relationships that we have cultivated within the university to work towards those outcomes, including Student Life, University Health Services, Services for Students with Disabilities, Athletics, Kinesiology, and Michigan Medicine,” said Dr. Okanlami.