YSU provides a buddy for life

Buddy Up for Life's next training session is April 6. Photo Courtesy of Isidora Sisic.

By Tala Alsharif
The Jambar Contributor

The Buddy Up for Life program at Youngstown State University trains athletes with Down syndrome by pairing them with volunteer buddies for tennis and fitness conditioning.

The program is open to athletes five years old and up and usually runs in the spring and summer on Saturdays at the YSU Indoor Tennis Center.

Alyssa Olsen, assistant coach and coordinator for Buddy Up, said the program helps athletes with Down syndrome learn tennis, increase social and listening skills and provide a fun environment.

The organization started over 10 years ago in Columbus, but has since branched out to more locations, such as Cincinnati and Boardman. The program has been at YSU for the past three years.

“It was started by a mother and a tennis coach of a person with Down syndrome,” Olsen said. “It grew and branched out … There are a million different programs going all over.”

Olsen started working with Buddy Up at 10 years old at the Boardman branch and moved up to working with athletes, then coaching and coordinating.

According to Buddy Up for Life’s website, volunteers aren’t required to have experience in tennis, but they have to be enthusiastic and energetic.

Isidora Sisic, a volunteer student-athlete, said the program is an hour and a half long and usually starts at 10 a.m.

“We start … with warming up exercises,” Sisic said. “Then, we start playing tennis with them, and usually at the end of every session, we end it with Duck-Duck-Goose.”

A buddy’s main job is to make sure everything runs smoothly for the athlete they’re partnered up with. Olsen said it’s important for buddies to be aware every athlete with Down syndrome has different needs and understandings.

“My favorite thing to tell our volunteers is to make every activity their own and take full creative liberty to completely just figure out what works best for their athlete,” Olsen said.

Sisic said having conversations and forming a connection with athletes makes them feel comfortable and included.

Olsen said she believes the program teaches volunteers how to interact with and treat people with Down syndrome.

“Volunteers always end up learning how fun and amazing the athletes can be,” Olsen said. “It’s a fun experience for everyone.”

Sisic said she enjoys being a part of the program, as it makes her day and makes her feel appreciative. She added she wishes more people were aware of it and got involved.

“I’m sure if more people knew, more people would be involved,” Sisic said. “We really do need more volunteers.”

Olsen believes volunteering at Buddy Up for Life is a great way for students to gain experience working with people with disabilities.

“Eventually, someone will come across someone with a disability, and it is so important to know how to treat that person and how to interact with them in a way that isn’t disrespectful and patronizing,” Olsen said.

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