Born with cerebral palsy that affected his hips, legs and right arm, Glenn Singletary was 9 years old before operations allowed him to walk without braces or crutches, though not without difficulty.
Still, it never occurred to him not to play sports with friends after school or at recess.
“You know how kids are: You pick teams to play football or whatever or baseball,” he said. “You’re always going to be the last one picked because you’re not any good. My father basically said if you want to do something bad enough, it can be done. It has to be within reason.”
Now Singletary, who turns 67 on April 24, again needs to use a cane or walker to get around, especially after major surgery and an automobile accident. But quit playing? Not yet.
As an adult, Singletary, who lives in Baker, has played softball, table tennis and golf. He won a gold medal in shuffleboard at the 2000 U.S. Senior Olympics in the 50-54 age group. He has played wheelchair tennis for 11 years, although his disability doesn’t require such devices for daily mobility.
Every Saturday, he joins other local wheelchair tennis enthusiasts at the Highland Road Tennis Center, and he competes in tournaments.
“I guess from my upbringing, I’d say, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” Singletary said.
Singletary grew up in St. Amant when it was much more rural than today. His family owned 13 acres, some of which was wooded, which meant weekends involved clearing unwanted trees and briars.
When the family went to the back of the property to work, Glenn went with his dad.
“He’d be holding me by the hand, and I’d be tripping and falling all over the place trying to step over stubble,” Singletary said. “He said, ‘Son, if you don’t keep on your feet, we’re never going to get back to the back to do our job today.’”
Singletary said his parents’ attitude helped him believe in himself. “If I wanted to do something, they weren’t going to stop me,” he said. “They were going to support me.”
In softball, Singletary pitched, a position that relied on finesse rather than speed or strength. He joined the Baton Rouge Table Tennis Club and developed into a formidable player in a sport that relies more on hands than feet.
Singletary, who worked at the State Police Crime Lab before retiring, was invited by a co-worker to try golf. His first nine holes produced a score in the 70s, which embarrassed him. His wife bought him an instruction book, “The Golfer’s Bible.”
“It was written for a right-handed person, so I had to read it almost twice as a left-handed person,” he said.
Despite not being able to hit the ball as far as his peers, Singletary turned himself into a bogey golfer, usually shooting in the high 80s to low 90s in 18 holes. He also found success in golf scrambles, a tournament format in which everyone on a team hits from the same spot, then chooses the best shot and plays from there.
“I said, ‘Y’all do the driving and get me within 100 yards, and we’ll be on the green and one-putt,’” Singletary said. “They depended on me a lot of times, too, but I had confidence in myself that I could do it.”
He took up wheelchair tennis after seeing a small newspaper item encouraging people to learn to play.
“I thought it was going to be easy with my table tennis experience, but it’s a totally different game,” he said. “You’re playing with 27 feet or 30 feet having to hit a tennis ball, whereas ping-pong you’re only talking about 3½ feet to get over a net. That’s the hardest thing to get over in my tennis playing because I still slap at the ball a lot of times. I’m trying to do my ping-pong motion, and that doesn’t work too well.”
Yet, in 2012, he was named Louisiana Tennis Association Wheelchair Player of the Year after winning the organization’s C Division.
Age and other factors — Singletary had surgery for a bowel obstruction last year — have made playing more difficult, but that doesn’t stop him.
“Now, I’m doing it more to help the younger people see that you can play this game as long as you want to, as long as you have the physical strength,” he said.