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Mannion a champion off, now on the court

November 4, 2014 01:26 PM
 
 

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Crestmoor State Champs
Brian Stromberg, Matt Mannion, Spencer Dellasalle, Will Biermann teamed up to capture the 2014 Colorado Junior Team Tennis B18 Futures State Championship. “It was pretty cool. We got a trophy,” Matt said. “I can say I’m a state champion in something.”


Story by Tom Fasano

 

Matt Mannion was never a fan of the two-bounce approach.

When Matt began playing tennis at the age of 10, he was given the option of allowing the ball to bounce twice before hitting it due to a rare condition he was born with called arthrogryposis, which limits his mobility due to stiff joints in his hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and feet.

“Every once in a while my hips will hurt, but otherwise I’m not in pain at all,” Matt said.

Leanne Palmisano, director of tennis and the tennis pro at Crestmoor Community Association in Denver, called the other local tennis clubs and instituted the two-bounce approach for Mannion. Needless to say, Matt didn’t like it from the get-go.

“I never used that rule. I didn’t like it,” said Matt, a senior at Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver and the son of Julie and George Mannion. “I wanted to be treated like everyone else. They encouraged me to do it, but I never did it. I grew out of that rule.”

 

A Determined Kid
Palmisano, who has been working at Crestmoor for 25 years, said Matt was full of determination from the start.

“He’s turned into a pretty decent tennis player,” Palmisano said. “He has a really good forehand. He has a great serve. Everything I’d asked of the other kids I asked of him. I made him run. I made him do the sprints. He just went for it, and he never asked for any special favors, that’s for sure.”

Palmisano said Matt has taught her and other kids a lot when it comes to fighting through obstacles.

“He’s an incredible kid,” Palmisano said. “I know he’s taught all the other kids at Crestmoor a lot. I admire him. I believe tennis gave him a lot of self-confidence, even though he struggled. He’s very competitive and wants to win the right way. He never has taken any kind of hand out at all. He has two great parents that have always treated him just like anyone else and are very supportive in everything that Matt’s wanted to do. He’s worked hard at it as well.”

Matt, 17, a four-year letter winner in doubles at Bishop Machebeuf (enrollment 370 students), said tennis became a favorite sport of his when he started getting pretty good at it. 

“I can get around just like everyone else. I’m just not as fast as everyone else,” Matt said. 

Matt, who has also lettered three times in lacrosse at Bishop Machebeuf and plans to play the sport in the spring, said he likes to be a part of a team. This past summer, Matt’s Colorado Junior Team Tennis squad won state in its division.

“It was pretty cool. We got a trophy,” Matt said. “I can say I’m a state champion in something.”

Matt’s strong serve is the best part of his game.

“I think it came pretty naturally actually. At first it wasn’t too good, and then I started watching pro tennis and I kind of picked up some stuff from there and it got a lot better,” Matt said. “It’s the strongest part of my tennis game, for sure.”

 

Don't Say "Can't"
Matt’s mother, Julie, lives by the motto of “Don’t Say Can’t.”

“Since I was little, my mom has the saying of ‘don’t say can’t’ because I was saying it all the time,” Matt said. “Then I started not to say it and I started doing a lot more things like playing tennis, playing lacrosse, snowboarding and swimming and all that stuff. I really like snowboarding. I’m really fast.”

Julie said with tennis being a team sport as well as an individual sport, Matt was able to play a part in any team success, especially during the Colorado Junior Team Tennis  summer league.

“Being able to be a part of the team was instrumental,” Julie said. “He has some great kids that follow him and support him, and never ever not want to be his partner. They actually choose him to be his partner in tennis. Anybody can play the game. It’s just having the right people around you, the right coaches and the right supporters. He has a great father who supports him. The kids around him swarm to him. I have never had a kid say, ‘I don’t want him to be my doubles partner.’ Tennis has been so great.”

Matt, who would like to attend Colorado State University and study business finance next year, has undergone multiple surgeries throughout the years, but the bright spot with his condition is that he can opt for hip replacement surgery when he stops growing which will eliminate the pain he now has in his hips.

“He had eight surgeries in the first three years of his life,” Julie said. “He was in a body cast for three months.”

 

A Great Support System
Matt said his support system of family and friends and coaches, including his summer tennis coach Brett Champion at Crestmoor Community Association, have helped him through the years.

“My high school coaches taught me different things I can do with my serve,” Matt said. “They made it faster and they put more spin on it. My mom just kept pushing me to do all these things. My aunts are very supportive of what I do, and my friends like that I can do these things.”

Champion said it was three years of working together in private lessons before he was comfortable enough to play on a team.

“I offered him the second bounce, but he never really utilized it,” Champion said. “He’s always played doubles and he’s never had a double bounce. I didn’t think he’d ever play competitively, but when he finally did I was so excited. I hope he continues to reach for his goals.”

Bishop Machebeuf athletic director Eddie Kane said Matt is one of those kids who always shows up for practice, is always on time and is dedicated to his team.

“He really can’t move that well, but he still goes out and attempts to do the running drills,” Kane said. “He just tries to do everything that the other kids are doing. He’s always been a team player. I never heard of him being a problem on the team or getting upset with the coach.”

 

Great Skills
Kane said Matt has great skills in tennis and lacrosse.

“If the tennis ball comes in his hitting zone or the lacrosse ball comes right to his stick, he can do with it what he wants to do with it,” Kane said. “He just can’t always do the physical part to get to the right place at the right time.”

Kane said Matt is treated like one of the normal guys.

“I think the kids do notice like, ‘Hey, Matt’s working hard. We can work hard as well,’ ” Kane said. “There was a tennis match I took them to up at Weld Central where it came down to a third-set tiebreaker,” Kane said. “The other kid hit a shot right to Matt and Matt just slammed away a forehand to win the match. There were a bunch of parents from the other school that were watching and were like, ‘Wow.’ That was a nice little moment of glory for him where he was kind of the hero of the match.”

Julie said seven years ago Champion told her to put Matt out on the court.

“She was instrumental in coming to me and saying, ‘Get him out there,’ ” Julie said. “Brett and Leanne really helped him thrive in that sport.”

Matt said tennis has made a big difference in his life.

“I think it’s transformed me into a better person. Ever since I started playing tennis, I’m a little happier and stronger,” Matt said. “I love tennis. It’s great. I’ll play tennis until I physically can’t anymore.”

 

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