Shannon Williams has been a fixture on the Cheyenne South sidelines since her freshman year.
The junior has served as a manager for the Bison’s boys basketball and girls soccer teams. Williams also was as a manager for the volleyball team during her freshman year. She often runs a video camera and takes statistics.
All three were sports she had considered playing, but knew she couldn’t.
Williams was born with thrombocytopenia-absent radius syndrome. Thrombocytopenia is a blood disorder that makes clotting difficult. Because of the rare genetic condition, she also was born without the radius bone in her forearms. Williams has an ulna that gives her an abbreviated forearm that stops just inches from the elbow. Her hands also are turned inward.
Williams considered all her limitations as she looked for a sport to play.
“I don’t have the reach for basketball or volleyball,” Williams said. “I’m also only 4-foot-8, so I would have had people towering over me on those courts. I love soccer, but my blood disorder wasn’t going to let that happen. It wouldn’t have been good if I had gotten elbowed or something and started bleeding.
“I had kind of thought about all sports at one point or another. I just wanted a sport I could actually play. I wanted to get out there and play a sport of my own.”
It wasn’t until a little more than a year ago Williams was inspired to try a sport she thought might work – tennis.
She reached out to South tennis coach Josh Cossitt, who also is the city of Cheyenne’s director of tennis, about taking some lessons and possibly joining the Bison tennis team.
“I was unsure of what it would be like because I had never played a sport before, but I had nothing to lose,” Williams said. “I thought I’d just go out and see how it goes.”
Initially, Williams played with a modified junior racket that fit nicely into her hands. In addition to having a shorter and narrower grip, junior rackets also are shorter and have a smaller hitting surface. Williams played in a few junior varsity matches last fall, and discovered that her reach was limited with the junior racket. She was often left waving at balls she couldn’t get to.
Cossitt was determined to keep Williams’ positive attitude around his team, so he reached out to Trent Aaron with San Diego-based Natural Tennis to get Williams a two-handed racket. She now plays with an adult-sized racket that has a Y-shaped grip, allowing her to hit all of her groundstrokes with two hands. She serves with only her left hand on the racket.
“This racket is amazing,” she said. ”It lengthens my reach and makes up for the long arm length.”
Williams and freshman Patricia Bonney will be South’s No. 3 doubles team when the Wyoming state tournament starts today in Gillette.
Figuring out how to serve was the toughest part of Williams’ venture into tennis. She worked on the stroke with South assistant Jesse Chavez, and eventually came up with a shot that looks like a left-handed forehand.
“She isn’t going to get a heavy pace, but she can spin the ball,” Cossitt said. “Her serve relies on getting a bounce into the opponent’s high zone and being harder to return. She isn’t double-faulting much anymore, because she put a lot of time in on that serve with (Chavez).”
Initially, Cossitt wasn’t sure how he was going to teach his sport to someone with Williams’ limitations. The best advice he got was from peers who work in adaptive tennis programs.
“They told me to just put everything in front of her and tell her to do it,” Cossitt said. “They told me she would figure it out because that’s what she has had to do her whole life. They couldn’t have been more right.”
Williams knew the few varsity matches she played last season hadn’t provided enough experience, so she entered a handful of junior tournaments.
“You’re not going to get any better if you’re not out there on the court,” Williams said. “The more opportunities you take advantage of, the more you grow.”
Williams’ dedication impressed Cossitt.
“She is fearless,” he said. “She signed up for tournaments and went head to head with the best players in the city, but she wasn’t getting deterred. I have players in my junior program who are afraid to play in tournaments, but (Williams) is fearless.
“That’s probably her biggest asset on the court.”
Williams is part of South’s leadership program that mentors freshmen and helps welcome them into the school. She has found a home on the tennis court.
“My teammates have really welcomed me and don’t look at my disability,” she said. “They see me out there playing and treat me like anyone else. Tennis has made me a more confident person.
“If I can come out here and play tennis, I can do anything.”
On the court
The South, Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne East volleyball teams will all compete at the Casper Invitational starting Friday. Pine Bluffs will play in the Lusk Invitational on Saturday, while Burns continues Class 3A East Conference play by visiting Wheatland on Friday afternoon.
On the course
Central, East and South’s cross-country teams will compete Friday at the Sweetheart Invitational in Loveland, Colorado.
Pine Bluffs-Burns runs Friday at the Saratoga Invitational.
In the pool
Central and East head north to square off with Campbell County and Thunder Basin on Friday in Gillette. Central and East will take part in the Sheridan Invitational on Saturday.