The extra day in 2020 yielded an unforgettable evening. On the night of February 29, Buddy Up Tennis supporters gathered to celebrate our EXTRAordinary Athletes at the Buddy Up Tennis 6th Annual Benefit Gala, “Something EXTRAordinary.” With over 400 guests in attendance, this was the largest and most exciting Buddy Up Tennis gala to date, and included representation from seven locations, with Athletes, Buddies, Coaches, Coordinators, Partners, and friends from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dallas, Akron, Upper Valley, Sarasota, and Orlando! The evening was truly extraordinary raising funds to help support five new Buddy Up Tennis locations, 10 new Buddy Up Fitness locations, and 10 pilot Buddy Up for Life Classes.  

February 29th was a record-breaking evening for Buddy Up Tennis, and the honorees truly made the evening extra-special and meaningful. Although the Dallas location launched just one year ago, Coordinator Cheryl Halpern was named Coordinator of the Year for her tireless perseverance in her efforts to build the largest and most financially sustainable Buddy Up Tennis location. Our first-ever Buddy Up Tennis expansion was also recognized. The Buddy Up Tennis Cincinnati team, which, ten years later, is still being led by the incredible original volunteer leaders Kathy Szudejko and Lisa Arnold, was named Location of the Year. In addition to our amazing and dedicated Coordinators, Athlete families, Buddies, and Coaches, Buddy Up Tennis also had the distinct honor of recognizing a remarkable partner who continues to advocate for our Athletes within the national tennis arena: Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive of the USTA National Campus. Kurt shared, “Buddy Up Tennis is a unique nonprofit in that the organization works beyond the courts with the Athletes fully present. To watch pure joy up close and to see the camaraderie among Athletes, Volunteers, and Coaches is truly special.”

“I have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome, but that is just one thing that makes me EXTRAordinary!” Lorain Athlete Audrey Costilow shared in the Gala Welcome Video, which artfully captured the theme of the evening, “Something EXTRAordinary.” Athletes were invited to share their dreams for the future and how Buddy Up Tennis was going to help them achieve those aspirations. Four Athletes enthusiastically shared their dreams and their own “Something EXTRAordinary,” including Sarah Boyles from Dallas, who plans to go to college, Ellie Havdra from the Upper Valley, who aspires to be a professional Athlete, and Emma Stone from Akron, who desires to own a restaurant. Christopher Szudejko also shared how Buddy Up Tennis helps him and his fellow Athlete Sophia to be EXTRAordinary, relaying that, as Athletes, they learn to be strong, healthy, and confident. 

In addition to the four Athletes who spoke to their own “Something EXTRAordinary,” 30 Columbus Athletes performed an electrifying rap and dance to the “The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us,” sharing their powerful truth that the sky is their limit, and that the world’s lack of expectations for individuals with Down syndrome will not hold. Our Athletes asked the audience to invest in their potential, and Athlete Sarah summed it up by rapping, “I dream big. I believe in me. Barriers don’t define me. They inspire me.”

In the spirit of raising expectations and achieving dreams, President and Founder Beth Gibson debuted Buddy Up for Life, an exciting first-of-its-kind, skills-based training program designed to empower those within the Down syndrome community with the skills to live independent and intentional lives. Through key partnerships, the Buddy Up for Life pilot program will empower our Athletes with the tangible skills to live meaningful lives of self-worth and contribution. 

Beth left the gala guests with a poignant call-to action-to join the Buddy Up Tennis movement in redefining what it means to live with Down syndrome. The memorable and inspirational evening would not have been possible without the “Something EXTRAordinary” Sponsors, including Presenting Sponsors Safelite Autoglass and Express

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the Buddy Up Tennis Supporters for helping our Athletes contribute their own “Something EXTRAordinary” to each of our 25 communities! 

Click HERE to check out photos from this EXTRAordinary evening.