The Birmingham family’s contribution over the last few decades to Canadian wheelchair tennis has been instrumental in developing the foundation on which the success of the sport has been built. Through the Tennis Matters campaign, the family has donated over $2 Million to provide Canada’s wheelchair tennis athletes with enhanced funding and competitive opportunities.
Their involvement has developed over time as they supported Canadian wheelchair tennis players at events, providing so much care and assistance to these athletes. Their commitment began in 2003 when they agreed to assist with the hosting costs for the Canadian Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships in Stoney Creek, Ontario and provide travel grants to allow Canadian players to participate in the event.
Since then, their generosity has expanded to new heights. In 2006, they offered funding for the Canadian National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, which were renamed the Birmingham Nationals in their honour, as was the Birmingham Canadian Classic, a Grade 2 ITF tournament. In 2008, they decided to focus their efforts towards Canada’s Paralympic success by creating the Birmingham Excellence Fund to assist with coaching and training support for prospective Canadian Paralympic tennis athletes. Since establishing this fund, Canada won its first Parapan Am medal in 2015 in Toronto in the men’s doubles category (bronze) and its first gold medal in 2019 when Rob Shaw was crowned singles champion in the quad category.
Recognized by the players as the “family of Canadian wheelchair tennis”, Betty and Bruce Birmingham become the first wheelchair tennis inductees into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame.
Wheelchair tennis today is thriving thanks to the vision and generosity of Bruce and Betty Birmingham.
In 1998 Tennis Canada became the governing body for wheelchair tennis across the country. The opportunity existed for Tennis Canada to become a national leader in the development and delivery of paralympic sport, by creating a national model for other sports to emulate. However, awareness and participation in the sport was very low, with very little money available.
A strategic plan was developed with clearly defined priorities including awareness and recruitment programs; long term athlete development; coaching certification and competitive structure.
The challenge of funding remained until the Birmingham’s fell in love with the sport. Both played tennis and were advocates of the sport for most of their lives; in fact, Betty continues to be an official who has traveled to tournaments all over the world.
Their awareness of wheelchair tennis was non-existent until Betty was first introduced when she worked as an official for the then Canadian Open in Stoney Creek. She immediately fell in love with the sport and the athletes. She shared her passion with Bruce who was also immediately impressed by the athleticism and dedication of the athletes. They were saddened to learn of the challenges faced by the sport and the athletes themselves due to lack of funding. It was at that moment that Bruce and Betty decided to help change things.
They immediately made a generous 5-year pledge, which grew larger over time as they became more committed to the growth and success of wheelchair tennis. By the end of the family’s most recent pledge period, their gift had grown to be among the largest ever received by Tennis Canada for any program, including able-bodied athlete development.
Bruce sadly passed away in 2010.