2007 Grassroots champion of the year: Dan Vonk
Dan Vonk has no problem being the local “tennis guy” — so long as it means he’s helping bring more players to the courts in Camden County, Ga.
When Vonk began as coach of the Camden County High School boys’ and girls’ teams in 1995, the state of the program was far from ideal. “My first year, I had to tell kids to go get some friends so we could fill the roster,” he says. “I had to show most of the kids how to hold a racquet.”
Tennis in Camden County has come a long way since then, grown and developed through the hard work of Vonk and a team of tennis leaders for whom he readily offers praise. Summer tennis camps beginning in 1999 led the way for after-school, parking-lot lessons for students at two local middle schools. In 2002, tennis teams were formed at the schools, and soon both will boast four courts on their campuses.
Last season, Vonk’s teams swept the regional championships. This year, he was honored with the USTA National Starfish Award for his no-cut tennis program. And for his efforts to make tennis available to all, Vonk is RSI’s 2007 Grassroots Champion of the Year.
Early this year, Vonk started organizing the Camden Area Tennis Association. “I would like nothing more than to one day see that out in the community kids and adults have a place to enjoy the lifelong game of tennis,” he says.
“Dan has been the solid foundation for tennis in Camden Country for over a decade,” says Robin Dawson, junior programs coordinator for USTA Georgia.
Tips for success
- Develop the demand, when creating a grassroots tennis program. Show community leaders a high level of anticipated participation and need.
- Enlist the help and support of tennis lovers in the community, especially the ones with children who would benefit.
- Start small and be patient. Try to grow a little bit every year.
See all articles by Kristen Daley
About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.