Grassroots Tennis: Play It Forward!
CTAs, public parks, high schools and NJTLs are on the front lines when it comes to growing our sport in communities.
Florida: Partnership Results in Huge H.S. No-Cut Gains
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), in partnership with USTA Florida, has increased high school “No-Cut” tennis teams from 22 at the end of 2015 to 164 registered schools thus far in 2016.
“The No-Cut program gave kids who wouldn’t normally make the team an opportunity to participate,” says Will Adams, the contract administration specialist for the FHSAA. “I received several calls from coaches thanking us so they could take advantage of the program.”
USTA Florida invested $15,000 in the program, offering the first 100 schools to register two free cases of tennis balls, or four cases if the school had both boys’ and girls’ teams. The next 50 schools to register each received one free case.
Thad Hawkes, entry-level tournament coordinator for USTA Florida and a high school coach, coordinated the effort. As a No-Cut coach himself, he has seen the difference the program has made in keeping kids in tennis.
“The hardest thing for a coach is to tell someone that they didn’t make the team,” Hawkes says. “The other consequence is that the student may very well drop tennis and pick up another sport. Growing the No-Cut program is just the first step in growing the opportunity for high school tennis in years to come.” — Rick Vach
Southern: NJTL Volunteer Brings Tennis to the Delta
Over the course of 30 summers, at least 500 youngsters from western Mississippi have been introduced to tennis by Birlette Jelks, in just one of the programs he and the Greenville NJTL & CTA have established.
Jelks, who founded the organization with Harold Hall and S.B. Buck, coordinates hands-on programs and community outreach.
“Underprivileged kids who don’t have a clue about tennis come to our summer camps. We are their tennis program,” explains Jelks.
“Greenville provides the facilities; we provide the instruction and the kids. And we also have a regional reach. In the Delta, there is only us — Greenville, Greenwood, Ruleville, Cleveland and Leland all bring kids by the busload.”
On the agenda is a lesson about Arthur Ashe, who co-founded the NJTL in 1969. “We teach children to be better players. We teach them to be better sportsman and better citizens. We teach them respect,” Jelks says.
In 2004, Jelks’ family was named the Mickey McNulty Family of the Year by the USTA Southern Section. The former Alcorn State player has seen about 30 youngsters develop into college tennis players, including his own two children. — Ron Cioffi
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