So much tennis is going on around here this month that it's hard to focus on one event, but this cause is so significant that I'd like to tell you about it first.
Kami Schlossnagle, a USTA leaguer, is best-known in these parts as being the wife of TCU baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle. Jim has helped TCU baseball rise to national prominence over the last few years, with a 2010 College World Series appearance in his TCU resume. There was so much excitement leading up to that CWS that the Horned Frogs players were like rock stars, and it was hard to find parking once the playoffs began (a great problem to have in a college town!).
But here's what the Schlossnagles have done that deserves far more of our attention than any sports accomplishment could merit: They have started a foundation to help fight children's eye disease, starting with the children right in their own household. It's called the RB Eye Foundation, and its mission is to raise awareness of vision-threatening diseases in children, including Leber's Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a rare inherited eye disease that appears at birth or in the first few months of life. It can blind children. Completely.
The RB Eye Foundation also aspires to raise money for patient care, diagnostic testing and medical research for those diseases. It's very hard to find that kind of assistance and expertise, even if you have the means. The Schlossnagles want those services to be accessible without parents' having to search far and wide--in their case, even out of the country--to get the information they need. So this is about money, of course, but also very much about access.
The Schlossnagles went through years of eye-testing and research by hospitals to fully understand the disease and how in the world it came to affect their daughter Kati, now 10, and son, Jackson, 11, out of the clear blue sky when they were just a few years old. They learned that they--Kami and Jim--each carry a particular recessive gene that, when carried by both parents, gives each of their children a one-in-four chance of inheriting the disease. In this case, Kati and Jackson each wound up being the one out of four, so both kids have LCA.
The Schlossnagles are hosting a women's doubles tournament on Saturday, Oct. 15, at TCU to raise funds and awareness about LCA. The tourney will have 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0 doubles divisions. It costs $30 per player and will take place from 8:30 until 1 p.m. There also will be festive activities that evening at the Eye on the Ball benefit at the Stockyards from 6:30 to 11 p.m.
Please sign up for the tennis and the auction, if you want a full, meaningful experience that would really help the cause. I can't imagine having one child with a potentially blinding disease, much less two. The Schlossnagles and anyone else with kids with this disease need our support right now.
Kami and I recently spoke at length about the saga of how the family learned that Jackson had LCA, and how they have tried to turn lemons into lemonade. Through the whole experience, which came as a complete surprise, they have held their heads high and done whatever traveling and consulting they had to do to figure out what to do, because there's no medical protocol that can make LCA go away.
"When my son started to walk, he would run into things, run into walls," Kami said. "I just knew something wasn't right. For about a year, my pediatrician was giving me excuses that it wasn't an eye thing, that his [Jackson's] feet were just bigger than his body, things like that.
"When he was 2, they said he was farsighted. Then we discovered he had pigment floating behind his retina. Our pediatric ophthalmologist said, 'You're right. Something's not right.' " The farsightedness was in addition to the LCA.
In their exhaustive search for answers, the Schlossnagles wound up at the University of Iowa, where they finally learned the name of the gene responsible for the disease. It's called CRB1, and mutations in the CRB1 gene cause LCA.
"While we were there, we had them look at our daughter, too, just as a precautionary measure--and it turned out she had it, too," said Kami, who stressed how thankful the family was to connect with the University of Iowa's outstanding staff. They have been taking the kids there for about five years, and things are going well.
Right now, the kids' eye disease is stable, and they lead perfectly normal lives. They wear special contact lenses and see well enough to attend regular schools, but this eye disease could worsen over time. Hopefully, through research and funding, a cure will be found while they are as young as possible.
"We're very lucky," Kami said. "It could be worse. We want to raise awareness, and we are trying to raise funds for a new research center here. We toyed with the idea of starting a foundation for about two years before pulling the trigger. Now we are trying to grow the foundation so we can help as many kids as possible."
Kami plays tennis three or four times a week; when we put this article up on the website, Kami had just returned from a marathon match that she managed to win in a third-set tie-break. She calls tennis a passion of hers, but the kids are better at other sports, largely because tennis is such a fast game that it's hard for the kids to track the ball. They don't have peripheral vision, and what vision they have is limited.
Here's a nice thing: Jackson is good at baseball, which surely makes his daddy happy, and he and his sister have good attitudes about all of this. Let's do our best to help them.
Way to Go, Willie Wolff--And Good Luck at Lakeway
I ride my bike past Dr. Willie Wolff's house in Overton Park nearly every day--which is about as often as he wins another tennis match. TCU legend Tut Bartzen regularly hits with Wolff, whom he showers with superlatives.
Now in his early 70s, Willie has been dominating his age group since before many of us were born (or were very young). He has a rivalry with a Central Texan named Del Campbell, and the two might be duking it out for No. 1 in the state at a big tournament in Austin's Lakeway World of Tennis at the end of this month. This comes not much more than a year after he had knee-replacement surgery.
Wolff, ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 10 in the nation, has had a big year, with several hard-fought matches that went three to sets against Campbell. Depending on how things go at Lakeway, Wolff could emerge with the top ranking, so there's some big drama there. If you see Wolff working out at TCU, try to learn something from him.