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Opening doors for deaf players

The senses play an important role in a tennis player's game. A player can feel the correct execution of a stroke or serve. One hears the sound a ball makes when it hits the racquet's sweet spot and pops off the strings. A hard hit ball sounds solid and you can tell that it's coming at a fast pace.

How would the loss of hearing effect one's play?

Ask Tony Cook, Antonio Quilidini or Adrian Gil. Gil and Quilidini are totally deaf and Cook has a severe hearing loss. They all play tennis.

Shawn Arnette, teaching professional at Royal Racquet Club in Clearwater is currently teaching Quilidini. Cook works out some with Arnette and Gil is just getting back into the game.

"I've taught people that couldn't understand a bit of English and that was tough," said Arnette, "but I had never taught anyone that couldn't hear before I met Antonio.

"Antonio learns like a sponge, maybe because he has to concentrate harder," added Arnette. "Eye contact is real important in teaching because most deaf people rely on reading lips."

Arnette also found that good demonstrations and body language were essential teaching methods, especially with the deaf.

"I rely more on the eyes," said Gil in sign language that Cook translated. "I can't hear the ball, so I have to see if the ball is fast and hard or if it looks slow and soft."

Cook works as a maintenance man at the club and plans to participate in the upcoming USTA adult league team tennis. He's a 4.0-level player.

"I would really like to get into teaching and coaching," said Cook, 29. "Before I came here six months ago (from Iowa), I really didn't think you could have a career in tennis."

Cook, who speaks and can hear about 50 percent of normal, doesn't think of his condition as a handicap except when in the dark or when using the telephone.

Arnette and the staff at Royal Racquet Club hope to encourage other deaf persons to contact them so they may offer them the opportunity to learn tennis. They have contacted the Deaf Center at St. Petersburg Junior College and possess a TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf). A TDD is a telephone designed to allow a deaf person to communicate. It works much like a fax machine.

"We hope we can let Antonio, Adrian and especially Tony be the liaison for us with the deaf community," added Arnette. "There may be a lot of deaf people that don't feel there is a place for them to learn and play tennis. We want to open our doors to them."

For more information, call Arnette at 799-3200.

O'Connor at Saddlebrook: Kevin O'Connor, a 1983 graduate of Clearwater Central Catholic High School, is the coordinator of tennis services for the Palmer Academy based at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel. O'Connor began working for the late Harry Hopman in 1988 upon graduation from Loras College in Iowa in 1988 with a degree in public relations. At that time, O'Connor was responsible for marketing and coaching duties.

O'Connor returned to Clearwater earlier this month, bringing 38 juniors from the Palmer Academy to the Clearwater Hardcourt Championships.

Umpire clinic: A USTA umpire training clinic is Saturday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. The next clinic is scheduled March 28 in Orlando. Call 341-1859.

Horne wins with perfect score: Morris Horne won the men's division of the monthly mixed doubles competition at Bayhead Complex in Largo. Horne scored 200 points, the most possible. Mike Paul was second and Gene Crouse was third. For the women, Ann Cunnane was first with 101 points, followed by Dolores Koslowski and Lynn Hesse.

Local winners at Bardmoor event: Damon Henkel, a senior at Thom Howard Academy in St. Petersburg, won the men's open singles and doubles championships. Henkel, seeded fourth in singles, defeat Olivier Larin of South Carolina in straight sets and teamed with Troy LeQuagge to win the doubles.

Other local winners were Mark Wagner of Indian Rocks Beach (men's 25), David Bonner of St. Petersburg (men's 45) and Vickie Stillwell of Largo (women's 25). Pat Siracusa and Andy Lynn won the men's 45 doubles.