Tennis Industry magazine

 

Smart Tennis

The USTA’s Tennis & Education Foundation is focused on growing the game and helping its youngest players.

By Kristen Daley

Among the resources available to grow the game of tennis, none may have a more lasting impact than those of the USTA’s philanthropic entity, the USTA Tennis & Education Foundation. By starting at the grassroots and focusing on communities in which the sport hasn’t been readily available, the USTA T&EF is creating a strong foundation upon which to improve the well-being of the game, its newest players, and the people and programs that will encourage the growth of both in the coming years.

Smart tennis

“The Foundation’s mission is to enhance the lives of people through tennis and education,” says Judy Levering, Foundation board member and USTA past president. Since 2001, the USTA T&EF has supported programs that are geared toward providing at-risk youth with positive role models, academic assistance and life skills that help prevent substance abuse, violence, and school dropouts through structured community tennis programs. It also awards scholarships and other incentives to keep youngsters playing the game recreationally into their college career and beyond.

“Through the Foundation, we’re reaching communities and kids that otherwise might not be exposed to tennis,” says Karen Martin-Eliezer, executive director of the Foundation. “We’re hoping that these young people will continue to play the game and to act as role models.”

In 2006, the Foundation presented $1,347,272 in grants through its Aces for Kids and DEUCE initiatives to 100 programs that combine tennis and education to help children pursue their goals, succeed in school, and become responsible citizens. In the last five years, the Foundation has awarded grants to more than 125 programs in 38 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Aces for Kids is a national initiative of the USTA that is overseen by the USTA T&EF in conjunction with the USTA Public Affairs Committee. It strives to promote healthy lifestyles by combating childhood and adult obesity by providing disadvantaged, at-risk children the opportunity to learn to play tennis and improve their academic skills in a structured format; develop computer literacy; interact with a mentor and other students; and attend college prep sessions.

Tennis and Education

When choosing grant recipients, the Foundation looks closely at factors including a program’s educational component and budget, as well as how well its board represents the local community. Programs selected to receive USTA T&EF grants then report on their progress twice a year.

Some programs have been able to gain credibility and leverage the funds that they have received, says Foundation proposal review committee chair Lawrence Rand. “That helps further the program’s sustainability,” he says. “We’ve had some wonderful success stories.”

Among them are the experiences of the Rodney Street Tennis and Tutoring Association (RSTTA), serving at-risk youth in Castle County, Del. In addition to a year-round tennis and education program that serves more than 350 participants from first grade through college, the organization also offers many other programs, including an eight-week summer tennis session for more than 850 children.

In 2005, the Rodney Street program received an $18,000 grant from the USTA T&EF. Now in its 28th year, RSTTA is using the funds to maintain and grow its current offerings, which have already proven successful. “Last year, we had nine ranked Delaware tennis players that are minorities,” says Harry Shur, RSTTA executive director. What’s more, adds Shur, the association’s ambassador program, which sends instructors to centers serving underprivileged youth, is rapidly growing in popularity.

“The (USTA T&EF) has been very, very kind to us, and has funded us throughout the years,” says Shur. “We’re still very much a grassroots program. But without (the Foundation’s) assistance, we would not be able to do all of these quality, year-round programs.”

In addition to its own funding of grassroots programs, this spring the Foundation also partnered with the USTA Office of Diversity and the USTA Public Affairs Committee in awarding DEUCE (Diversity Elimination Using Care and Exercise) and Aces for Kids grants, respectively, both initiatives focusing on the well-being of at-risk youth through tennis, fitness, and education.

In 2007, the Foundation will encourage programs to offer nutrition education components as well, geared toward both children and their parents or caregivers. “We grow the game, we have healthier and happier kids,” says Martin-Eliezer. “Everybody wins.”

Scholarships and Incentive Awards

The Foundation also awards scholarships and other incentives to keep young adults playing the game recreationally into their college years and beyond. The program supports college-bound high school seniors who have participated in USTA and other organized tennis programs. Students are eligible for a number of scholarships awarded by the Foundation if they demonstrate academic excellence, community service involvement, and financial need. More than 300 scholarships have been awarded since 2001.

Martin-Eliezer says that rewarding scholarships to players who will not likely receive a tennis scholarship from a college or university should contribute to the long-term goal of growing the game. “We hope they’ll remember that tennis was one of the vehicles that got them the scholarship and they will continue to play,” she says.

Additionally, the Foundation distributes Player Incentive Awards to students in grades 6 through 11. These $500 grants help young players in USTA and school programs pay for lessons and tournament and program fees. Recipients must also demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence. “We’re investing in the future,” says Martin-Eliezer. “It’s not just a game. We’re investing in young children who will hopefully be leaders in their communities.”

To realize their goals, the Foundation, working in conjunction with USTA Outreach and NJTL (National Junior Tennis League), reaches out to other foundations that offer grants, as well as a dedicated group of financial supporters. The Foundation received a $400,000 grant from The Ford Foundation for a pilot project that will use tennis to bring people together from diverse backgrounds in changing neighborhoods in ways that will enhance education, communication, economic opportunity, and neighborhood stability. The Foundation also presents special events throughout the year, including the often star-studded OPENing Night Gala and Pro-Am during the US Open to support its initiatives.

The “Avenue of Aces” at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is another major fundraiser, where donors can leave their mark on the home of the US Open by purchasing a paver emblazoned with their names.

“We make sure that everything we get goes directly back out to programs and students across the U.S.,” says Martin-Eliezer.

The Foundation’s Board of Directors determines grant awards, scholarships and other financial support. Board members represent a variety of professions and different levels of tennis involvement. Among them are USTA Chairman of the Board and President Jane Brown Grimes; former USTA Chairman of the Board and President Alan Schwartz, who is also founder, co-owner and chairman of Tennis Corporation of America; Bahar Uttam, CEO of the Boston Lobsters, a World Team Tennis franchise; and International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Pam Shriver.

Succeeding Shriver in the position of Foundation president last year was Patrick McEnroe. “The mission of supporting programs that enhance the lives of people — primarily youngsters — hits home,” says McEnroe. “I am proud to take on this responsibility. I have been extremely lucky to have tennis be such a big part of my life. It is part of the McEnroe DNA, along with the desire to help children. Tennis has taught me so much about life and when it’s combined with education, particularly for underserved youngsters, it is a winning combination.”

Growing the Grassroots

Teaching pros, CTAs, and others in the tennis business stand to benefit from the Foundation’s work. “We’re helping to grow the game by expanding the grassroots programs across the country,” says McEnroe. “There are a lot of programs out there that we’d like to help.”

Teaching pros and club owners who offer nonprofit tennis and education programs for at-risk youth are encouraged to apply to the USTA T&EF for support. They can also contribute to the Foundation’s efforts, Levering says, by getting involved with the community groups that run such programs in their area. As ambassadors for the game, they can also lobby to get courts built or renovated in nearby public parks. Also, Levering adds, “We want more kids to apply for scholarships, and we want more programs to come to us, so we’re looking for people to send them in our direction.”

“I know the Foundation will continue to grow and help to improve the quality of life for children by providing worthwhile opportunities through community tennis programs and our sensational scholarship program,” says McEnroe. “We want kids to reach beyond the moon and stars using tennis as the vehicle, while at the same time keeping their eye on the ball to ensure their future and education.”


For more information on the USTA Tennis & Education Foundation, visit USTA.com. There, you’ll also find the requirements and applications for grants and scholarships.

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About the Author

Kristen Daley  is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.

 

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