The type 1 diabetes diagnosis is a cause for pause. Newly diagnosed type 1 diabetics often have to reevaluate and in some cases eliminate common routines and beloved activities. Dash Connell, head coach of the Tyler Junior College Apaches, understands this dilemma well.

Right before Dash turned 15 years old, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Instead of letting the diagnosis derail his active lifestyle, Dash made adjustments to his training to accommodate his new lifestyle. He went on to play at Tyler JC – leading them to two national championships and a doubles national championship – and then at Texas A&M.

As a coach, Dash is working to show others with type 1 diabetes that they too can play competitive sports and thrive.

Tyler JC Men’s Tennis players teaching tennis fundamentals at tennis night with Tyler Type One.

After years of contemplating how his tennis program could give back to the diabetic community, Dash reached out to Tyler Type One about hosting a tennis clinic night. 

“We wanted to show the young Type 1 diabetics in our area that diabetes was something to think about when training and working towards something, but it didn’t have to hinder them from any goals they might have,” Dash explained.

Tyler Type One is a nonprofit that aims to create a community and support system for adults and youth in the Tyler and East Texas area. The nonprofit aims to provide guidance and resources that help diabetics live healthier and more active lives.

The tennis night hosted by the Apaches started with Dash talking about his journey as a collegiate athlete with type 1 diabetes. Afterwards, the participants were broken up into groups based on age and ability and were paired with Apache student-athletes. The Tyler JC players taught the attendees how to hit a backhand and forehand along with a few simple drills. At the end of the night, each participant was given the opportunity to try to beat the Tyler JC players in some games.

Tyler JC players feeding balls to kids at the tennis night with Tyler Type One.

“The best memory was seeing our teams have fun with the kids,” Dash said. “I think children are hungry for interaction like that. Obviously, it was a night geared to young diabetics to play some tennis, but by the end it was just college tennis players having fun and playing tennis with local kids. That’s always a cool thing to see.”

The Tyler Junior College Men’s Tennis program was honored for their commitment to their community with the ITA National Community Service Award for Junior College Men. 

In addition to their work with Tyler Type One, they put on Apache Pro-Am Community Tennis Day and had planned to host “Serve up for Sofia.” The event was cancelled due to the pandemic, but was in support of a local elementary school girl who was battling cancer.

The Apaches keep service to the Tyler community at the forefront of their program.

“Our athletic director, Kevin Vest, and those above him remind us that community is one of the reasons we are able to do what we do,” Dash said. “I also think I have these ideas in my head because of those coaches who impacted me earlier in my career. We know it is important to connect with the community and always be looking for chances to give anything back we can to show our appreciation.”

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