(Originally featured in the New Hampshire Union Leader

DERRY - This past spring tennis season, McKinley Grimes was crowned a Division II NHIAA champion when his Bedford Bulldogs overtook Hanover, 5-4 on May 31 at Concord’s Memorial Field.

The rising senior won his singles match that day and figures to be in the mix for the No. 1 spot in 2013.

His focus this summer?

Helping others.

In addition to volunteering his time to teaching tennis, Grimes was a strong participant in this weekend’s “Best Buddies NH Tennis Challenge”, a local tournament and community tennis event held at Pinkerton Academy to benefit Best Buddies NH in its efforts to expand programs in the Granite State. Best Buddies is an organization that provides individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities a chance to experience one-to-one friendships, integrated employment oppurtunities, and leadership development.

“I feel like when you have the amount of success I’ve had, you start to become more of a role model to younger kids,” said Grimes.  “I know them pretty well and I know they know me and I really enjoy being an example for them. When I was young I looked up to (former Londonderry, current Siena Colege star) Alex Burbine and I still do. He’s always been a role model to me,  but its a bit of a role change and now I’m an inspiration to the younger kids and also just really love helping out.”

But Grimes is more than just a tennis inspiration - he also has a learning disability that has been tough on he and his family.

It doesn’t stop him.

“I know this is for a really good cause and I have a learning disability, too, so now this is personal,” he said. “Of course, I’d want to help out even if I didn’t have it.”

“Tennis has been a great thing for him,” said Jane McKinney, the tournament’s adult advisor. “It’s brought him a whole new world. He’s the shining star on the Bedford team and he’s going to be an incredible player. He already is and he started late. Socially, its been a great thing for him.”

McKinney, who serves as Londonderry’s school district psychologist, has been instrumental in getting this fundraising tournament off the ground, with the help of a core of committed student-athletes.

Overseeing the group and with the help of student directors Matt McKinney and Amanda DePasquale, Jane took a backseat role to Londonderry’s Tim Court, Harrison Max, Mike Paquette, Cassie Burbine, Cassandra Cronin, and Hannah Gould, and Pinkerton’s Casey Gilman and Kealey Cela as they got everything in place to run the charity event.

“It’s been a learning experience for the kids. Some things they didn’t do so well on and others they did great. It was nice to see them become aware of all the ins and outs of organizing an event,” she said. “When summer rolls around, a lot of these kids with intellectual disabilities don’t have friendships or integrated experiences of groups to go do things with and it’s hard on the families to watch them be isolated. Best Buddies is about trying to get some of these friendships going.”

Bringing Best Buddies to New Hampshire will positively impact thousands of lives in the state by creating social change for people with and without intellectual disabilities, as the vision is to end the social isolation that people with intellectual disabilities experience. The organization has a presence in New Hampshire through local college and high school chapters at the University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth College, Phillips Exeter Academy, however, New Hampshire does not have a state office, which is needed in order to expand the programs and establish chapters in middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the state.

Securing a state office requires funding of $250,000 a year for three years.  

The NH Tennis Challenge broke its goal of $5,000 and early estimates put the number at around $8,000 total.

We’re still a long way off to see all this happen, but you have to start somewhere,” said McKinney. “This is sort of that grassroots movement for Best Buddies to expand and take hold in New Hampshire.”

The tournament offered men’s, women’s, and mixed doubles, as well as men’s and junior’s singles.

The men’s singles semifinals will be at 8 a.m. today, followed by the finals at 12:30 p.m. Alex Burbine will face former Southern New Hampshire University player Colin Stone, while Matt McKinney will take on Andy Day.

In women’s doubles action, Cassie Burbine and Bethany Huard will face Julie Neverman and Cathy Wilson at 8 a.m. The winner will face the victorious duo of the match between Amanda DePasquale and Brenda Lockwood versus Alli McKinney and Amanda Woodgate at 12:30 p.m.

For men’s doubles, Day and Tomas Gonzalez will take on Grimes and Tony Cortese at 9:30 a.m. The winner will take on either Skip and Alex Burbine or Don Watson and Ephraim Lin at 2:30 p.m.

In the 15-and-under juniors division, Zack Gould faces Ian Horne, while Cameron Lynch takes on Josh Pifer. Both are at 9:30 a.m., with the final set for 4 p.m.

The mixed doubles quarterfinals were delayed due to rain and the semifinal matchups were not available at press time.

Sunday also marks the day of the adaptive tennis activities for Special Olympians, young people with intellectual/developmental disabilities, and all kids who love tennis from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.