What enormously successful February, 2019 event combined sparkling lights, magical smiles, inspiring music, contagious dancing, enthusiastic encouragement, delicious food, and well-deserved pride, all under the roof of one incredible venue? Here’s a hint: “Love means nothing in tennis, but everything when it comes to you!” If you guessed the answer to be the 2019 Annual Buddy Up Tennis Gala, you would be right! (Quoted phrase coined by Buddy Up Tennis Athlete Todd Eisinger, who owns his own greeting card business.)

The evening was filled with joy and excitement, and the theme for the February 23 event was fitting: “Serving Up Our Future.” From the beautiful ambience of lights and glam, to the impactful posters and pictures of the Buddy Up Tennis Athletes, to the incredible sounds of the band, the night glowed with purpose and love. Whether one was the parent of an Athlete, a Coach, a friend of a Buddy, a Board member, or a Corporate Partner, one could not help but be truly inspired by the Athletes and by the mission of Buddy Up Tennis: to serve individuals with Down syndrome by building brave athletes on the court with the self-worth and confidence to conquer their challenges and achieve their fullest potential off the court.


The exciting event was attended by 370 guests, and seven Buddy Up Tennis locations were represented: Columbus, Akron, Upper Valley, Lorain, Sarasota, Tampa, and Pittsburgh. Awards commenced after cocktails and prior to an elegant dinner. Leah Friedman, currently the USTA National Skills Manager, was honored as Partner of the Year for her instrumental role in helping Buddy Up Tennis further develop their curriculum, and for helping to make it possible for Buddy Up Tennis Athletes to play on the largest stage in tennis: the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open. The Upper Valley Team was honored as the Location of the Year, and 13-year-old Gianluca Audia was noted for raising over $8000 for Buddy Up Tennis. Upper Valley team Coach Andrew Gunberg and David Pearce, along with Volunteer Coordinator Mary Alice Leonard-Heath and daughter Lili, shared the incredible impact the program has had on the River Valley Tennis Club and on the community at large.

Tears of inspiration welled in the eyes of several of our attendees as five brave Athletes stood before the audience and read aloud essays that testified to how Buddy Up Tennis has impacted their lives, and how it will help their future.

The program concluded with courageous and strong Athletes holding hands and performing a stirring dance to “This is me,” from The Greatest Showman. The performance spotlighted the abilities of Buddy Up Tennis Athletes to break down barriers on the courts and in the gym, and even showcased some of the Athletes jump roping and doing kettlebell swings and burpees! Athletes and audience alike swayed to the music, as racquets were raised high. Raise a Racquet yielded outstanding results as, once again, Buddy Up Tennis partners and advocates proved that they cherish and support the Buddy Up Tennis mission. Donation goals were exceeded—over $150,000 was raised, which was a 35% increase from last year’s event!


TO CONCLUDE OUR 2019 GALA, Founder & Executive Director Beth Gibson was proud to reveal Buddy Up NEXT: our 10-year vision plan for the next evolution of Buddy Up Tennis, by which we plan to triple our impact. In the next 10 years, the mission of Buddy Up Tennis is to serve 1,000 more brave Athletes through program enhancements, full staff and more partnerships. Stay tuned, and save the date of February 29, 2020, for next year’s gala event, “SOMETHING EXTRAORDINARY.” The gala will be held purposely on the 29th day of February—Leap Day—an “extra” day of the year, in celebration of the extra chromosome that makes our Athletes so special.


A heartfelt THANK YOU for helping make possible such a successful event that set historical records for attendance, corporate partnerships and individual support, and overall funds raised. We could not be on this incredible journey without your support.