Two determined college students and a desire to unite the tennis, Down syndrome, and Washington University communities. This is the best way to describe Jonathan Song and Avinash Murthy, recent graduates of Washington University in St. Louis. It took two and a half years, a global pandemic, and lots of community building, but the two did it, they launched Buddy Up Tennis St. Louis in the Fall of 2021. Click HERE to check out photos from the launch.

From the start, Jonathan and Avinash presented themselves with a strong will to lead and make their dream a reality – a Buddy Up Tennis chapter where the majority of the Buddy volunteers would be WashU students. Due to their hard work, the partnerships that formed between WashU Buddy Up Tennis Club, the local Parent Coordinator Milena McGhee, Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis, and Frontenac Racquet Club led to one of the strongest Buddy Up Tennis launches. 

Jonathan and Avinash have left quite the legacy within the WashU, St. Louis, and Buddy Up Tennis communities. The program is running strong on a weekly basis September through May and Athlete families are so grateful for the opportunity for their children and adults with Down syndrome to participate in Buddy Up Tennis. 

A conversation with Jonathan Song, co-founding Coordinator of the Buddy Up Tennis St. Louis Chapter:

Why did you want to bring Buddy Up Tennis to St. Louis? 

In my sophomore year, Avinash and I wanted to bring a tennis volunteering program to WashU. We knew that if we could get the massive WashU tennis scene to intersect with a local community, it would be a great success for both sides.

Avinash discovered Buddy Up Tennis from his local club back home. It was the perfect match. Though we would be the first chapter run by college students, the national office team served as fantastic mentors, setting up calls for us to figure out how we could get this idea off the ground. Not only that, but Buddy Up Tennis also managed to continue helping others even during the pandemic, something which a lot of WashU clubs couldn’t do. Although the pandemic forced us to change our plans, Buddy Up Tennis’ continual commitment to the Down syndrome community showed us that this program could sustain itself even after Avinash and I left, and convinced me that partnering with Buddy Up Tennis was the best thing that could have happened to us.

What is your favorite part of a Buddy Up Tennis clinic? 

My favorite part of a Buddy Up Tennis clinic starts in the lobby, where coordinators, parents, Athletes, and Buddies are all excited for the next hour and a half to begin. I love seeing new Buddy-Athlete pairings doing introductions as well as old Buddy-Athlete pairings greeting each other again. 

During our Halloween clinic, the diversity and quality of the Athletes’ costumes amazed the Buddies, from fairies and superheroes to an extremely accurate John McEnroe outfit, even equipped with the mustache. Finally, I think there is some indescribable quality about seeing everyone for the first time since the previous clinic, almost like meeting an old friend again.

What is one thing that you think the community should know about our Athletes? 

The one thing that the community should know about our Athletes is that they are unmatched in their enthusiasm for tennis

How many total WashU students have you introduced to Buddy Up Tennis?

We have 20-30 WashU students on the courts each week, but the name of Buddy Up Tennis reaches far beyond that on the WashU campus. I’ve had classmates I’ve never met before respond to our social media posts. Our roster is 130 WashU students strong.

Article written in collaboration with Buddy Up for Life Intern, Eirann McClatchy.