A New Way to Love Tennis
An Atlanta retailer says her love of the game is complete after establishing a tournament to benefit charity.
By Tiffany Grayson
I love tennis. I guess you could also say that tennis is a way of life for me. Not just because I play, but also because of my overall lifestyle.
I did not grow up playing tennis; I caught the “tennis bug” in my adult years, when my (now) husband taught me to play. Now, I love playing tennis for fun with friends, playing for a charitable cause, and of course playing in leagues.
I love tennis so much that I chose to work in the industry, too. Four years ago I started my own business — a tennis specialty store in the suburbs of Atlanta. Our store, Coach Matt’s Tennis & More, has provided full-service tennis resources for the area, where we’ve been fortunate to make new tennis friends. Working with customers and vendors alike has been an enlightening experience that has furthered my adoration for the sport.
Once our business was established, I decided that it was also important to “give back” to the sport. We decided that one way we could accomplish our goal was to hold an annual charity event that would offer a fun experience to the participants while raising money for local grassroots programs. And so, in 2004, the Annual Coach Matt’s Charity Invitational was born.
The event itself is an amateur doubles tournament in which you compete against players of your same caliber. We also offer a “celebration of tennis” at the end of the tournament with exhibition matches, games, music, raffles, and more. We have been honored to have world-class tennis pros Ellis Ferreira, Mark Knowles, Tom Gorman, Tom Gullikson, Amer Delic, Justin Gimelstob, and Bobby Reynolds join us in the past. It’s an exciting weekend of tennis and we’ve been able to raise thousands of dollars for local programs.
It was during the first year of our tournament that I first met Kelly. I was researching local options for charities in need of sponsorship dollars when I heard about local tennis training academies for disabled athletes. Special Populations Tennis Program Inc. (specialpopstennis.com) is a volunteer-run program that provides meaningful, year-round tennis training for mentally disabled athletes so they can compete in tournaments in Georgia, the U.S., and abroad. Many of these athletes would never have the opportunity to play tennis if it weren’t for this program.
We offered them sponsorship from our charity event and I invited them to our “celebration of tennis” at the end of the tournament. Kelly, who has Downs syndrome, speaks on behalf of the group and shared with the 250-plus spectators why she loves tennis. She brought everyone to tears with her sweet words and emotional delivery. I knew from that moment that we would continue to support the training academies whenever possible.
It has been three years since we started our charity event and the 2007 event, held Nov. 10-11, was our most successful yet. We had more support from our community and vendors than ever before and we had a record-breaking 150 amateur doubles players in our weekend tournament. We ended our event with a doubles exhibition between collegiate players from UGA and Georgia Tech. Special guests Justin Gimelstob and Tom Gorman were also on hand to play tennis with our special athletes and raise money for our cause. This year we raised more money and recruited more volunteers for our program than we have in the past.
I cry each year when Kelly gets on the microphone and explains to everyone why she loves tennis and why each dollar raised helps more athletes like her play tennis. I thought I learned to love the game when my husband taught me to play. Then I thought I really loved tennis when I started my retail company. Then I thought that when I went to the US Open and met some of the amazing players you see on TV, I finally couldn’t love the game any more. I was so wrong …
Hearing Kelly talk about why she loves the people who make her tennis dreams come true … Watching the special athlete you just sponsored win a medal in competition … Giving a high five to an athlete after he or she hits a winning shot … Knowing that every dollar we raise goes to helping one more special athlete play tennis … That’s what taught me to really love the game.
Tennis isn’t just about one game or match — it’s about a lifetime of experiences. So thank you to the volunteers, fundraisers, friends, and tennis family that have taught me how to love tennis — the new way!
Nonprofit charitable groups such as Special Pops Tennis are always in search of volunteers and fundraising efforts. If you would like to get involved or find out more information, visit www.specialpopstennis.com. For additional information on the Annual Coach Matt’s Charity Invitational visit coachmattstennis.com.
See all articles by Tiffany Grayson