2004 Wheelchair tennis champion of the year: Julie Jilly
While Julie Jilly is proud that the Professional Tennis Registry’s annual wheelchair tennis tournament has grown to more than 150 players from around the world, she looks forward to the day when there’s no longer a reason for it to exist.
“The perfect scenario would be for wheelchair players to play in regular USTA tournaments like everybody else,” says Jilly, vice president of operations for the PTR and tournament director of the PTR/ROHO $15,000 Wheelchair Championships, an ITF Championship Series I and USTA Southern Championship event held each September on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Wheelchair tennis players are already sanctioned to compete against able-bodied players in USTA tournaments and leagues with a single concession: They are allowed two bounces. Still, Jilly says more education and exposure — such as exhibitions between stadium matches at the US Open, for example — are needed in order for wheelchair tennis to become truly mainstream. The PTR is assisting this mission by distributing a free guide to teaching wheelchair tennis to its entire membership.
“Until you see wheelchair tennis in action, you can’t comprehend how talented these athletes are,” Jilly says. The danger, she notes, is for people to watch a wheelchair player and think they “can’t hit with or teach somebody like that.”
Jilly is RSI’s 2004 Wheelchair Tennis Champion of the Year for her efforts to combat those misconceptions. Dan James, national administrator of the USA Tennis High Performance Wheelchair program, says Jilly “goes above and beyond the call of duty to support wheelchair tennis.” PTR CEO and Executive Director Dan Santorum, who has worked with Jilly for 19 years, calls her “a star.”
“Julie’s passion in helping players who are physically challenged, combined with her organizational skills, ensure that the PTR’s wheelchair tournament is successful every year,” says Santorum. “She gets results.”
Jilly joined the PTR as an administrative assistant in 1985. In its early years, the annual wheelchair tournament consisted of about a dozen patients from a local rehabilitation center. Jilly took the event under her wing, signing up sponsors as well as players for the burgeoning junior, adult and senior divisions. “We used to give a racquet bag to the player who had traveled the farthest, and it would be Missouri,” Jilly recalls. “Now it’s Australia, Japan.”
As her responsibilities with the PTR have grown over the years, so have the number of hats she wears. Jilly coordinates the PTR International Tennis Symposium, oversees sponsorship and marketing opportunities for the organization, serves as director of Special Olympics regional tournaments, manages member services and supervises the PTR’s staff. She also serves as secretary of the PTR Foundation, the organization’s non-profit division, which provides research grants, funds minority coach certifications and donates racquets, shoes, tennis balls and instruction to youth in the U.S. and abroad.
“It’s very rewarding to provide so many great services,” Jilly says. “Even though [the PTR] has 10,000 members all over the world, we’re really like one big extended family.”
Jilly’s Tips for Success
- Wear many hats obligingly. Pitch in at every level, and your efforts should be recognized and rewarded.
- Make change easy. Julie Jilly is recruiting wheelchair tennis coaches by advocating for exhibitions and equipping teaching pros with a free instruction guide.
- Don’t fear success. Jilly works tirelessly promoting the integration of wheelchair players in regular USTA tournaments, though it could ultimately end her tenure as tournament director of the PTR’s wheelchair tournament. Jilly knows that should that happen, her skills will be sought in another area.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.