By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Some of the best tennis players in the sport including Jimmy Connors were at Gates Tennis Center Friday to support members of the Dare to Play Tennis Camp hosted by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

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“They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t love it,” said Michelle Whitten, president & CEO of the foundation. “There are a lot of opportunities here and there but nothing really supporting them in terms of care and research.”

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It is one of the reasons the foundation exists and advocates for families, which have children or adults with Down syndrome. But beyond funding it is also important to do outreach like the camp. This day was an exhibition to highlight what participants experience over several weeks.

Jimmy Connors (credit: CBS)

“What’s your favorite stroke?” CBS4 asked one of the camp members. “Forehand!” said Matthew Hayes, 25.

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Connors is the former No. 1 player in the world and offered his support to this event because he loves the reaction it brings from the young players.

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“To see just what tennis can do and the joy that it gives everybody to come out and play is spectacular,” he said. “This is what you lay your whole life on the line for to get a reputation to be able to come and do things like this.”

Jimmy Connors and Cameron Lickle (credit: CBS)

The former professional tennis player and eight-time major title winner played his first public match in seven years for the event. It was doubles series putting him and another player against the former Naval Academy tennis team captain, Cameron Lickle. He also a supporter of the foundation.

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“It fuels your soul, just coming out and sharing a court with them,” said Lickle. “They have nothing but love, there’s not an evil bone in their body.”

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The event comes at a crucial time for the foundation and the cause, Whitten says they are finally seeing an increase in funding from the federal government. She believes tennis is the perfect way to bring families together and help others see their community up close.

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Michelle Whitten (credit: CBS)

“It’s a great equalizer, it’s a great opportunity for kids with Down syndrome to make friends with other kids with Down syndrome,” said Whitten. “To build confidence and a lifelong love of tennis and outdoors.”

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Whitten is the mother of a young girl with Down syndrome and says it is a constant reminder of the work that needs to be done for all families. She says you notice quickly the need for advancement and more options in the medical services for anyone with Down syndrome.

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“I think it makes me work harder,” she said. “Having your own child and watching her grow up, you feel a little bit more of the time pressure.”

The event and the camp serve as a way to bring everyone closer but Whitten says they are already united because of the reality they face each day.

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“We have six million people who we consider our family with Down syndrome and we have to do right by them,” she said.

Jimmy Connors (credit: CBS)

Progress may not happen as quickly as they all think it needs to but they are seeing signs at the federal level for research and each summer with the impact of this camp.

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“Did you have fun today?” CBS4 asked. “Yes!” said Hayes. “I love tennis.”

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LINK: Global Down Syndrome

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Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.