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Quite the racket

Leaven photo by John Shultz Last fall, St. Thomas Aquinas senior Christian Boschert launched a foundation to teach tennis skills to Special Olympic athletes. He is pictured above at a January clinic in Overland Park.

Leaven photo by John Shultz
Last fall, St. Thomas Aquinas senior Christian Boschert launched a foundation to teach tennis skills to Special Olympic athletes. He is pictured above at a January clinic in Overland Park.

College-bound Aquinas senior leaves his tennis program for Special Olympic athletes in good hands

by John Shultz

Like a lot of teens just days away now from graduation, Christian Boschert has a lot on his mind.

How will he balance his schoolwork with extra-curriculars and dorm life at his choice of university — Mizzou? What should he take and what should he leave when he’s packing his stuff?

But Christian has a problem that most other seniors won’t face.

How can he ensure that his foundation that teaches tennis skills to disabled athletes survives — and even thrives — after his departure?

If the last concern is a little out of the ordinary, so is the senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park. Rather than crashing on the couch for TV, video games, or marathon Facebook sessions, Christian has spent his Sunday evenings of late shepherding a group of about dozen volunteers.

Those volunteers, in turn, spend at least an hour each week           coaching tennis fundamentals to a similar number of special athletes at the Overland Park Racquet Club.

Inspired by a concept his family first ran across in Omaha, Neb., Christian started up a local chapter of Tennis Buddies last September.

KC Tennis Buddies, said the 18-year-old parishioner of Church of the Nativity in Leawood, “is basically a weekly clinic, every Sunday night. It’s like an extra practice for all the Special Olympic athletes who want to do tennis beyond the short, six-week season they have through Special Olympics.

“We have some athletes who are very serious about tennis.”

A tennis foundation is a natural fit for Christian. As Aquinas athletics fans already know, the senior is a key component of the Saints’ Tennis squad, and an avid player since the age of seven. With Christian on the squad, the boys’ team landed the Kansas 5A State Championship in 2011, and were runners-up in 2010.

“He’s taken us to a whole different level,” said David Shriver, Christian’s coach at Aquinas and a volunteer instructor with KC Tennis Buddies.

“We’re really going to miss him.”

It wasn’t just a love of tennis that drove Christian to work on KC     Tennis Buddies, though.

“I had worked with the Special Olympics before with a soccer program,” he said. “I really enjoyed that experience.

“So when we heard about the [tennis] program in Omaha, this just made sense.”

Christian gets help not only from his volunteer coaches, but also from his family.

While Christian focuses on the logistics of putting together the volunteer force and securing practice time and schedules, Christian’s mom, Tracy Boschert, has handled a lot of the behind-the-scenes effort, including the finances and promotion.

Serious assistance has also come by way of Fred Johnson with the Missouri Valley USTA (U.S. Tennis Association), who helped secure a $1,200 grant, and from the OP Racquet Club, which rents out court time to the group at a deep discount.

Other assistance has come from Nan Kanter, director of Blue Valley Special Olympics, and her husband, Sid Kanter, and, of course, from the dozen or so volunteers — a group that includes fellow Aquinas students, Rockhurst University students, a student from MidAmerica Nazarene University, and a teacher from the Olathe School District.

Most of the players involved, though, point to Christian as the driving force.

“For a high school kid, this takes a great deal of maturity and time and effort,” said Sid Kanter. “While most seniors are partying, Christian’s doing this.”

Those who know him well are impressed — but hardly surprised — at his efforts.

“He’s just an outstanding person,” Shriver said. “I’ve known him since freshman year, and I’ve watched him grow as a person.”

Shriver also taught Christian in an honors economics class during the teen’s academic career.

“He was just an outstanding student. When I heard he was doing this, I was kind of awed by it. It takes a lot of commitment and effort,” he said.

“But I knew Christian wasn’t going to do anything where he wouldn’t do the best that he could.”

Christian’s dad, Toby Boschert, echoed Shriver’s sentiments.“We’re incredibly proud that he started doing it and stuck with it, because it could’ve been very hard to keep this going,” he said.

“These young adults — it’s so much fun working with them,” added Toby. “The times I’ve been out there helping with Christian, you feel you’ve been exposed to one of God’s biggest blessings.”

Next up for KC Tennis Buddies is a trip to Omaha for a tournament in June. But Christian can now leave for his engineering studies in Columbia, Mo. (as well as some tennis at the club level) with the knowledge that his foundation is in good hands.

Shriver has agreed to pick up where Christian left off with the volunteers, and thanks to the grant, funding is already in place for the next two years.

Shriver also has many contacts, he said, in the local tennis and education communities who have expressed an interest in helping out.

“This program is going to be around for a while,” Shriver said. “The athletes and their parents and our volunteers have been very committed to it, and it’s going to be around.”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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