By Ava Durrett, Net News Contributor
A new school year is approaching and many of our ALTA juniors are off to college. It’s such an amazing time for change and growth; however, change is not something that is new to Jude Hiley. Jude is one of ALTA’s wheelchair tennis players and has been awarded a scholarship to Auburn University for the upcoming school year where he will be able to grow in his passion for wheelchair sports.
When he was 11, Jude was diagnosed with a bone cancer in his right leg. He later had to have that leg amputated. Since then, he has found many ways to still enjoy and pursue his dreams of being a college athlete.
One such avenue is through BlazeSports and the ALTA Wheelchair League. Mark LaRotonda is the ALTA VP of Special Programs and a BlazeSports Wheelchair tennis coach. LaRotonda first met Jude in April of 2021 when he came to a BlazeSports Wheelchair tennis practice. “He was very coachable, even though it was his first time using a wheelchair to play sports,” LaRotonda recalls.
Rob Popelka also coaches in the same leagues and says Jude was a natural athlete the minute they saw him in a chair. “He advanced so quickly, so Coach LaRotonda worked to get him into their ALTA league,” says Popelka. One of Jude’s first seasons included the Run/Roll League where he was able to play with BlazeSports Coordinator Tommy Shipeck.
At Auburn, Jude intends to improve in his sport and just have fun. “Auburn is special to our entire family. We are a third-generation Auburn family as my parents went there, as well as my grandfather who worked as a Dean of Liberal Arts,” says Jude. It’s quite special for him to participate at a college where he has always wanted to attend and be able to compete in both wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. Wheelchair tennis continues to grow and flourish at larger colleges, and Jude feels fortunate to have such a great opportunity. “I am really looking forward to moving to Auburn, playing collegiate sports, and majoring in graphic design,” says Jude.
Jude is a natural athlete and a great young man who will have a positive impact on everyone around him. We all look forward to following his academic and athletic career and can’t wait to hear what he does next. Popelka adds, “Auburn University is lucky to have him. His hard work ethic and love of competition are going to take him to exciting places.”