Tennis came into Lou Welch’s life full force at the age of 10. She started playing every day, hanging out at the courts, and playing with any willing soul. She played junior tournaments and on the local high school team, J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, NC. In college, Lou played on the tennis team at Peace College. It was there that Lou met Kelly Key Gaines, USTA North Carolina Executive Director, who would be instrumental in her future career with NC Tennis.
After college, Lou took a 15-year break from tennis. She returned in her 30's and it was then that she started to actively play leagues and social tennis.
As Executive Director of Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina (“ATANC”), Lou oversees twenty-three clinics and runs seven tournaments across the state. In addition, under her direction, ATANC hosts a national tournament as well as a qualifier for the National Adaptive Tournament held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, FL.
Lou says she is often asked about the history of Abilities Tennis. Some Abilities Tennis athletes started playing tennis through Special Olympics, which only offers tennis for two months out of the year. It was during that two month season that a coach and two parents, with special needs kids who loved tennis, saw a niche for year-round tennis programming. Together they formed a non-profit called Abilities Tennis Association of NC, one of two statewide Community Tennis Associations under the NC Tennis umbrella.
Each year, Lou also runs a fundraiser for ATANC, Footprints on the Court, which provides the funding that allows Abilities Tennis to provide free programming for their athletes with intellectual disabilities. Due to the pandemic, the fundraiser will be streamed virtually this year on YouTube on October 22 at 6:00 pm. Ken Smith, ATACNC Board Member, of WRAL will emcee the event and John Isner, former Top 10 ATP player from North Carolina, will be joining the fundraiser as well. Luckily, no one is going to have to return his serve!
You may be asking how can you help?! ATANC is in need of people to host "watch parties" with their COVID-safe communities and they also need sponsors and silent auction items. Sign up to receive updates and access the live stream of the event on their webpage.
When Lou joined the Abilities Tennis Association of North Carolina seven years ago, ATANC and RTA were already working closely together to provide programming opportunities in the area. RTA actually started and ran the first two Footprints on the Court fundraisers which created an ideal foundation for Lou and ATANC to build upon. RTA continues to promote the mission of ATANC, which is to provide tennis programming to those with intellectual disabilities. RTA does an excellent job of helping us communicate with the community by sharing our programs, volunteer opportunities, and fundraisers.
Lou is no stranger to tennis awards and accolades. In 2017, Lou won the North Carolina Tennis Adaptive Award for the impact she made in her roles as NC Tennis Adaptive Committee Chair, NC Tennis Adaptive board member, and Southern Adaptive Committee member. Under Lou’s leadership, Abilities Tennis expanded to serve over 500 athletes at 18 locations across the state and hosted six annual tennis tournaments. In 2018, Abilities Tennis was recognized at the US Open with the USTA National Adaptive Tennis Community Service Award.
In 2019, Lou received the USTA North Carolina Educational Merit Award given by Buster and Karen Brown. That same year, Abilities Tennis was named the 2019 USTA North Carolina and USTA Southern Community Tennis Association of the Year and was chosen by Net Generation to perform a demo in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open. Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment for Lou and Abilities Tennis!
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome.” - Arthur Ashe
Lou has had quite the journey and she has done so much for Abilities Tennis and the sport of tennis. While the doing is more important, as Arthur Ashe said in Lou’s favorite quote, we couldn’t be more proud of the outcomes. Thanks for everything, Lou!