2009 Tennis Advocate of the year: Ellen Doll
What happens when a very passionate tennis player and parent sees courts in town falling into disrepair? If you’re Ellen Doll of Minneapolis, you step up and start gathering support to save the courts.
Doll started the nonprofit Support the Courts in 2004 and since then has been the driving force in renovating four public sites in the last few years, saving a total of 20 tennis courts. And she’s not done yet, with more locations scheduled to receive her special brand of attention. Her efforts to pull together local government, community groups and residents has led to Doll winning RSI’s inaugural Tennis Advocate of the Year award.
“I didn’t see that the Park Board had it in their plans to renovate the courts, and so far, we’ve raised closed to a million dollars and renovated four sites,” says Doll, who recently won the USTA Northern Section’s Community Service Award.
“The Park Board owns the land; we’re renovating courts they own. They’ve allowed us to hire our own contractor, then we do the work as high quality as we can and donate it back to the Park Board, and they promise to maintain it.”
It’s a formula that is working for Minneapolis. The first site that Support the Courts renovated, six courts at Kenwood Park, was finished in 2006. “They get the most use of any in the city,” says Doll, “and they’ve just come alive. People play constantly.” The next three sites all serve major city high schools and have tennis programming for youngsters.”
“Ellen is doing extraordinary things for tennis,” says Becky Cantellano, USTA Northern’s director of tennis programs and services. “She sees dilapidated courts and underfunded programs as an opportunity for her to contribute, rather than another reason to complain. She speaks up, pitches in, and makes change happen.”
Tips for success
- When dealing with municipal government, don’t force it. “You have to build the relationship and really listen,” says Doll. “And sometimes you just have to wait for the right timing.”
- One of the most valuable volunteers for Doll’s organization was someone who did graphic design work. “The project comes alive once it’s on paper, when people see photos of children and bad-looking courts,” she says.
- In an all-volunteer organization, expect a lot of work to fall on a few people.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.