Grassroots Tennis: Play It Forward!
CTAs, public parks, schools and NJTLs are on the front lines when it comes to growing this sport in communities.
Southern California: LA84 Foundation & NJTL Set Standard
In Southern California, the LA84 Foundation and the National Junior Tennis and Learning Program have established a new standard when it comes to a successful joint venture. The LA84 Foundation is responsible for allocating funds realized by the creative staging of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. At the end of January, the organization decided for the 31st consecutive year to team up with the the program again.
Thanks to the funding, the NJTL has 46 year-round and 160 summer locations where economically disadvantaged youngsters have opportunities to learn tennis. In this setting the LA84 Foundation is, truly, one of a kind in its tennis outreach effort and its longstanding partnership.
“This is terrific news, and a direct reflection of the care and attention that Melanie Bischoff and Evan Smith have given this project,” says Bill Kellogg, president of the Southern California Tennis Association. “It’s a real feather in our cap.”
“We are extremely fortunate to receive another year of funding that will provide thousands of kids with a chance to learn and play tennis,” adds Smith, NJTL and Diversity & Inclusion coordinator. — Mark Winters
Intermountain: Life Lessons for Young Lives
Arthur Ashe said, “From what we get, we can make living; what we give, however, makes a life.” Those words hold special meaning for Clinton C. Vessels, III, the interim president of the Colorado Youth Tennis Foundation (CYTF). The stage-4 cancer survivor, who at one point had been given six months to live, is now more determined than ever to bring the opportunity of tennis to everyone — especially underprivileged youth.
Stepping onto the court at age 10 with his father, the number of doors that tennis opened for him is hard to count. He was a ball boy for Arthur Ashe, then selected to play national tournaments. The sport has allowed him to meet “extraordinary people from all over the world,” he says, including Althea Gibson and other tennis greats. “I was very lucky to be a part of that.”
Being one of the first African-American athletes to have these opportunities ignited his passion to open doors for others. Today, Vessels is on a mission to raise money for CYTF so he can break down the economic and social barriers that still exist for young athletes.
Vessels is in his 19th year on the board of the CYTF, which helps provide scholarships and program grants for players from ages 8 to 18 to ensure all kids have access to tennis. Tennis isn’t just a sport, he says, it’s much bigger. “Tennis teaches etiquette, sportsmanship, honesty,” he explains, adding that it’s such a mental game, it forces players to think.
USTA Colorado Executive Director Fritz Garger says Vessels’ strength and commitment are invaluable. “Clinton has been an integral part from day one of the revitalized CYTF Board. He represents so much of what is truly good about this sport. He’s thoughtful, considerate, caring and professional. The CYTF has been fortunate to have someone of his character involved with our work and our mission. He’s passionate about helping kids in need and knows first-hand what this sport can do for youngsters.” — Katie Newell
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