College tennis teams have been amazing on-court partners in many of our Buddy Up Tennis communities, but in the fall of 2020, an added element manifested: off-the-court partnerships. The Buddy Up Connections Program, a friendship-building program between Athletes and Buddies, became a perfect service opportunity for collegiate teams. Buddy Up Tennis Athletes were partnered with Buddies (volunteers) to participate together in weekly 60-90 minute meetings, and valuable friendships were formed that continue to develop today. Specifically, in the fall of 2020, two collegiate tennis teams partnered with local Buddy Up Tennis chapters to provide their student Athletes with a unique service opportunity. Dartmouth University Women’s Tennis Team (DWTT) of Hanover, NH and Grand Valley State University’s Men and Women’s Tennis Teams (GVSU) of Grand Rapids, MI became model teams to illustrate how this special partnership can impact both the collegiate community and Buddy Up Tennis Athletes. 

Buddy Up Connections served as an ongoing service opportunity, and both Coach Samantha Schall of GVSU and Coach Robert Dallis of DWTT shared the unexpected yet positive byproduct of team bonding that grew from the experience. Members of both teams were paired by the coaches to work with a Buddy Up Tennis Athlete, and the coaches worked to pair team members who were not as familiar with one another. This allowed the student Athlete duo to become closer teammates through weekly activity planning and meetings with their Buddy Up Tennis Athlete. 

Threaded through each Buddy Up Tennis program is the dual benefit of the impact on both Athletes and Buddies. It was no different for the DWTT and GVSU tennis players who participated in Buddy Up Connections. GVSU student athlete DJ Colantone described the dual benefit perfectly, “We go in thinking we are going to help the Athletes, but they end up helping us in more ways than we can count,” Similarly, GVSU student athlete Olivia Huang shared how her Athlete, Becky, has helped shape her perspective on life: “My Athlete, Becky, encouraged me to look at life through a different perspective, despite going through a pandemic at the moment. Becky taught me to be more optimistic and to take life one step at a time.” 

We have immense gratitude for the partnership and leadership of both the DWTT and the GVSU Tennis Teams for embarking upon this meaningful journey with our chapters. Both Coaches noted how this service opportunity is one that they see continuing because of the ongoing nature, flexibility, and (incredibly positive) impact on their team members. In particular, Coach Samantha has shared how, as she continues to build the culture of the GVSU teams, she wants opportunities such as Buddy Up Connections to become a way of life for the team. We, too, envision this service model for collegiate tennis teams to extend for years to come, not only in the Upper Valley and Grand Rapids communities but in Buddy Up Tennis chapter communities, nationwide.  

DWTT members Katie Weber and Jingyi Peng build pringle sculptures with Athlete Ellie Havdra.