Shirley Ruane -- Grassroots Champion of the Year
In parts of the Navajo Reservation in the Southwestern U.S., tennis is an esteemed sport to the area’s characteristically athletic population. Shirley Ruane, a Page, Ariz., tennis teaching pro and coach who has worked with many Navajo youngsters, sees the future of tennis in the reservation’s youth.
“They are so athletic, and so interested,” says Ruane. “If they have the opportunity to be trained, we’ll see them at the US Open.”
For nearly a decade, Ruane has played a key role in bringing tennis opportunities to this expansive yet underserved population. For her dedication, Ruane has been named RSI’s 2005 Grassroots Champion of the Year.
Ruane’s history with tennis began in earnest in 1996, when she and her sister, Barbara Campbell, responded to an advertisement inviting anyone interested in tennis to attend a meeting. The sisters thought the meeting would be about tennis lessons, but it turned out to be an organizational meeting for the Lake Powell Community Tennis Association, of which Ruane is now president. To learn the game, Ruane and Campbell took private tennis lessons and attended clinics. Four years later, Ruane became a certified teaching professional with the PTR.
Today, the LPCTA’s programs draw excited youngsters from Navajo reservation communities and other locations within a 50-mile radius of Page. Particularly popular is the free “Before-School Tennis” program held on Wednesdays (with the exception of rainy days), when up to 30 children can be found on the public courts across the street from the Page High School, where Ruane is also the coach of the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams.
With such an enthusiastic following, not even cold weather and snow will stop morning play, per request of the children. “I remember one morning when the court was covered with ice, so instead of playing tennis, we skated on our shoes,” says Ruane. “They just want to be there. They just love it.” Ruane brings coats, some donated and some she has purchased herself, to the court for children who arrive without one.
Ruane also has focused her energies on outreach to the youth of Navajo communities not served in Page. This past summer, she presented tennis clinics in six communities on the reservation, with support from the USTA’s Tennis in the Parks program. To each location, Ruane brought cases of balls, racquets, nets, reading material, and videotapes. “What we bring stays there,” she says. “Tennis in the Parks donated a lot of the equipment.”
The outreach activities have left a mark on the communities Ruane visited. Today, two of those towns, Kaibeto and Tuba City, are working toward constructing tennis courts. And Ruane, with help from volunteers including some of the high school students she coaches, strives to keep a tennis tradition growing. “When we go out on the reservations, we focus also on the adults so that they can teach the young people when we’re not there,” she says.
Ruane received the 2004 USTA Eve F. Kraft Community Service Award for her grassroots efforts. “The thing that impressed me is that she’s doing what she’s doing for all the right reasons, and that makes me feel really good that we have people out there like Shirley,” says Kirk Anderson, the USTA’s director of Recreational Coaches and Programs.
And while Ruane’s efforts provide a sturdy foundation for tennis development on the Navajo Reservation, she recognizes that it will take even more to help the population leave their mark on the sport, including facilities and other trained individuals to work with them. “That’s what we are struggling to get out there,” she says. “It’s going to take interested outsiders that have money that can contribute to the development of the sport.”
Shirley Ruane’s tips for success
- Collaborate with community organizations that have connections to your target audience, such as schools and youth groups.
- Seek support from your USTA district or section — they can point you in the direction of grants, workshops, etc. to help advance your program.
- For help with obtaining equipment for your program, contact organizations with resources allocated to support public parks tennis and tennis for underserved populations.
- If you don’t have permanent courts to work with, create your own using portable nets.
See all articles by Kristen Daley
About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.