Wheelchair tennis draws international crowd

Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lisa Smith (left) listens to a question about the upcoming ITF Wheelchair Tennis tournament, while Communications Director Kristi Kent watches.

More than 60 wheelchair tennis players from 16 nations have registered for the ITF Georgia Wheelchair Championships March 14-16 at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College.

Rome Sports Commission Director Ann Hortman told the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors that 11 of the competitors are coming from Japan alone. Eight of the top 10 ranked players in the world will be in Rome for the event.

Playing a long side the mostly professional wheelchair athletes, the United States Tennis Association will have a sanctioned wheelchair competition as well. Hortman said entries for that event won't close until March 8, so she is expecting well over 100 wheelchair athletes to be in town for much of the week.

The tournament week will kick off March 12-13 with a Train the Trainer Clinic put on by USTA professionals to help train people interested in helping to teach prospective wheelchair-bound athletes.

"I'm still looking for sponsors," Hortman said. "No amount is too small to help."

A new paddle event is being planned for July 7, GRCVB Communications Director Kristi Kent told the board.

Kent and Connie Sams from River Dog Outpost said they hope to make the event an annual event the first weekend of July to help draw attention to Rome's rivers and natural resources.

Sams said races are being planned for participants at least 18 years of age. The races — consisting of one, three and six mile events — will start from Heritage Park at the confluence of the rivers and have paddlers on the Coosa, Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers. Float events will be scheduled in conjunction with the races for younger folks or people who aren't actually into racing.

Three names have been suggested for the event including Mighty Magnolia, Chieftains Challenge and Kingfisher Challenger, Sams said, and her hope is to tie a name to the Native American history of the community.

Anyone with a suggestion is encouraged to contact the GRCVB office at 706-295-5576.