Tennis Industry magazine


Community Tennis: NJTL Stars

These dedicated individuals and organizations are among the more than 500 National Junior Tennis and Learning chapters bringing tennis and education to this country’s youngsters.

MIDWEST: Growing Tennis … One Program at a Time

Mike Levy Sr. has been working to grow tennis in the Milwaukee, Wis., area for over 40 years. He was a successful high school coach and helped launch the Milwaukee Tennis Club, which focused on giving adults in urban areas the opportunity to play in summer leagues.

In 2008, Levy began planning a new CTA to serve the Racine area. Now, the Racine Community Tennis Association is an NJTL chapter, leveraging its strong relationship with local schools to reach youngsters of all ages.

Levy is tennis director of the Milwaukee Tennis and Education Foundation, also a local NJTL chapter. The foundation offers a program called TEAM (Tennis, Education and Mentoring) that focuses on tennis and life skills.

Levy says serving others has always been a goal for his life, and he enjoys using tennis to reach young people. “I want to believe tennis can teach so much as it relates to hard work, perseverance, accountability, teamwork and sportsmanship,” he says. “Our urban youth win on all fronts when the game of tennis is the teacher.”

— Tracy Maymon

SOUTHWEST: Flagstaff’s Tennis Dynamo

Flagstaff-area tennis volunteer Jana Perpich has been the backbone of the sport in Northern Arizona for over a decade. In that time, she’s helped develop high school tennis programs in a city where none previously existed, worked to get youth tennis programs started and thriving, and helped sanction or run adult tennis tournaments.

But her most impressive and impactful achievement is as director of the Family and Community Teaming for Students (FACTS) tennis program in Flagstaff, a life-skills program and NJTL chapter that provides after-school and summer tennis experiences for more than 700 children each year.

The award-winning FACTS program has helped seed many of the city’s year-round tennis programs and high schools with enthusiastic young players for nearly 10 years. Without Perpich’s skills in managing, fundraising and communicating, the FACTS program might just be a theory, as would much of Flagstaff tennis.

— Jeff Sikes

INTERMOUNTAIN: Shining Star and NJTL Leader

Fifteen years ago, Trent Alenik was a member of the first class of the Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation, an NJTL in Las Vegas. He was a beginning tennis player, but eventually became a nationally ranked state champion and earned a tennis scholarship to Villanova University.

After college, Alenik had the opportunity to work on Wall Street. Instead, he chose to volunteer back at the NJTL chapter. After a year, he became manager, helping the organization navigate a large demand with limited resources.

Now executive director, Alenik’s leadership has resulted in unique partnerships with Richard Branson’s Necker Cup, the National Tennis Foundation and the NJTL capacity-building program.

But his biggest impact has always been on the children he mentors daily. Under his leadership, 92 youngsters have followed in his footsteps to gain admission and scholarships to top colleges.

— Ryan Wolfington

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Huge Hearts Make a Huge Difference

Cheryl Olivas-Dieli and Lois Sczepaniak are a dyanmic duo that have helped hundreds of San Diego kids learn the game of tennis for over 25 years. This coaching team is committed to helping low-income youth through NJTL and classes at the East County Community Tennis Association (ECCTA).

The two are also tennis coaching partners out of Helix High School, and teach in the South and East counties of San Diego, which are areas in dire need of good training for kids and adults. In addition, Olivas-Dieli, a USPTA-certified instructor, is the only San Diego coach who has made inroads at the Indian reservations in her area. She offers year-round NJTL tennis and is the first to help out at every San Diego community event. Sczepaniak, one of the original founders of the ECCTA, has been helping the Hispanic population in her area.

With their huge hearts, and giving freely of their time, both women are certainly making a difference to many kids in the San Diego area.

— Cari Buck

NORTHERN: Investing in Mind and Body

Kevin Tran recognizes the huge impact tennis has had on his life in such a short time. The senior at Harding High School in St. Paul, Minn., only started playing tennis as a freshman, but immediately fell in love with the sport.

That summer after his freshman year, he joined the Saint Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) program, and soon after, the SPUT Winter Warriors Leadership Academy. Tran has served as a player and instructor for SPUT, and last year was selected to attend the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America at Princeton University.

Graduating as class valedictorian, Tran will be first person in his family to go to college. He will attend Stanford University and is considering studying aerospace or mechanical engineering, economics or public policy. Of course, he’ll also play club tennis.

“I love the family I have made through tennis and Saint Paul Urban Tennis,” Tran says. “Tennis has allowed me to invest in my mind and body. Saint Paul Urban has given me the platform to make many friends, meet inspiring coaches, maintain a healthy lifestyle and give back to my community.”

— Lisa Mushett

CARIBBEAN: A Star of Hard Work and Perseverance

In 2003, Erasmo Almonte left his native Dominican Republic with only $200 in his pocket in search of a new beginning. He came to Puerto Rico, where he enrolled in college and obtained a degree in physical education.

Almonte visited the USTA Caribbean office, interested in becoming a tennis coach. He completed a recreational tennis workshop, then continued his education to make his dream a reality. Now, more than 10 years later, Almonte is known for his teaching skills, but also for his excellent personal values and qualities.

As a host for USTA initiatives such as NJTL, After School Programs, Tennis Kids Clubs and Junior Team Tennis, Almonte impacts hundreds of children each year. In fact, he even signed an agreement with the local government to provide free tennis lessons to low-income kids and adults, sharing with them the hope that tennis has given him.

— Arlin Hernández

NEW ENGLAND: Unique Style That Inspires Kids

For the past three years, Stamford Youth Tennis Academy (SYTA) has provided underserved youngsters in Southern Connecticut education through tennis programming. With free tennis lessons and clinics combined with its ACE Curriculum, SYTA is a coveted resource for locals.

The newest member of the SYTA team is 22-year-old Marcus Hooks, whose gregarious style of teaching tennis gains fans everywhere he goes. “As soon as we met Marcus, we hired him on the spot,” says SYTA Executive Director Linda Cremin. “He has a great presence, and you can tell he’s great with kids the way he engages them.”

“Marcus is inspiring and makes me want to come back every week,” says Stamford seventh-grader Amare Leak.

“As long as I’m the best I can be at what I do, I’ll be happy,” Hooks says. “I want to let these kids know they can be successful in both school and tennis.”

— James Maimonis

MIDDLE STATES: Going Into the Schools

The mission for City of Reading (COR) Tennis includes making tennis available, affordable and fun for everyone. For several years, that’s been on display through community events, clinics and tennis leagues. Most recently, though, it’s been apparent in the schools.

The award-winning COR Tennis recently began the “El” COR Elementary School Tennis League, bringing together kids from five schools at Reading, Pa.-area recreation centers. Matches are set up for multiple skill levels, and there are mascots and music to keep the atmosphere upbeat.

“These are great kids who may not have learned about tennis or experienced it without us finding them in the schools,” says COR Director of Tennis Larry Zerbe. “We make it fun for them. The kids are learning what tennis can do for them and what a great sport it is.”

COR also offers homework help to every kid in the program. And parents also are learning the game for the first time.

“The program has been a hit,” Zerbe adds. “It’s inspired a lot of the middle-school principals to add it to their schools, as well.”

— Michael Gladysz

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Decades of Giving to the Community

Carl Mendoza has been active in the USTA community for the past 30 years, volunteering on countless National and NorCal boards and committees, including serving as chairman for the Diversity & Inclusion and Community Tennis committees.

Mendoza also spends a lot of his time giving back to the community, teaching tennis to youth players and adults. He is certified by the PTR for Adults, 10 and Under, and 11 to 17 ages, as well as by the USPTA. In addition, Mendoza helped found the Northern California NJTL Junior Training Camp, which has been in existence for 25 years.

Currently, Mendoza is a volunteer for the NorCal NJTL, a member of the NorCal Tennis Foundation grants committee and the lead instructor for Youth Tennis Advantage (YTA). He most recently was honored with USTA NorCal’s 2016 Outstanding Community Tennis Volunteer Award.

— Mylene Mukhar

PACIFIC NORTHWEST: Setting an Example for the Next Generation

Eight years ago, Portland Tennis & Education introduced Miguel Diaz DeLeon to tennis. Since enrolling in Portland Tennis & Education’s year-round academy in 2009, DeLeon, now 16 years old, has developed into an excellent scholar-athlete and become an inspiration to younger academy participants.

Like many other scholar-athletes, DeLeon has grown up in the program, working hard to improve himself in the classroom and on the tennis court. Saturday mornings find him helping teach the “Ducks and Beavers” junior classes, and throughout the week he gives his time stringing racquets for St. John’s Racquet Club members.

Last summer, DeLeon was selected to be a ball person in the U.S. Davis Cup Quarterfinals and the US Open. His journey continues to inspire, setting an example for younger scholar-athletes and paving the way for a bright future.

— Celene Robert

FLORIDA: Past President Serves Delray Beach Youngsters

Only two years after its founding, the Delray Beach Youth Tennis Foundation has already touched hundreds of underserved students and boasts multiple NJTL chapter awards. The after-school program extols leadership, academic excellence and healthy habits through tennis. The foundation’s director of tennis is Don Cleveland, a past president of USTA Florida.

“We could not be more proud of Don and his efforts,” says USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth. “Many USTA Florida past presidents have an impact in their local communities after they’ve served the section, and Don has certainly done that in his work in Delray Beach with underserved children.”

The DBYTF has been recognized as winners over the last two years of the USTA Foundation NJTL Essay Contest, where students give voice to the life skills they’ve learned and applied through NJTL programs.

— Rick Vach

EASTERN: Creating Opportunities for Inner-City Youth

Sam Chhoeun of Rochester, N.Y., provides youngsters with the opportunity to try tennis through Love-15, an NJTL that for the last 26 years has offered free instruction and programming to thousands of local kids ages 8 to 16.

Chhoeun, the director of Teens, Youth Sports and Families at the Maplewood YMCA in Rochester, started in Love-15 as one of its first participants. Today, he runs the program with pride and passion, recruiting new participants through several nearby organizations, conducting tennis clinics at local schools and parks, and hosting Love-15’s summer tennis camp.

“Our host sites are strategically located to attract young people who would not ordinarily have the opportunity or inclination to play tennis,” Chhoeun notes. “We give participants an inclusive environment to interact with peers, positive role models and mentors.”

— Kelsey Clark

SOUTHERN:Propelling Youth Tennis in Louisville

It’s all about organization. That’s what people in the know say about Dee Maynard and her skills in getting things done.

The underserved youth of Louisville, Ky., are a lot better off because of Maynard’s hard-working and persistent attitude. Her volunteerism has spearheaded a vibrant and successful local organization — the Louisville 10 & Under Tennis Association — which is an NJTL and a CTA.

In 2012 there were only 270 Junior Team Tennis players in town. In 2016, JTT exploded to 1,475 participants. The NJTL supported about 200 kids five years ago. Based on receiving numerous USTA and other grants during the last two years, at least 5,370 youngsters have played tennis in its program.

“Dee will knock on any door at any time to grow tennis. She connects people in groups effortlessly and has tremendous leadership skills,” says USTA Kentucky Executive Director Jason Miller.

Even though Maynard keeps her hand in consulting with small businesses, she is extremely active in both tennis and non-tennis volunteer efforts. “I like to volunteer 40 hours a week,” she says. Louisville doesn’t mind that at all.

— Ron Cioffi

TEXAS: True Success in Corpus Christi

Maria Casares, director of education for Tennis Success in Corpus Christi, is full of energy. She not only tutors kids in the program, but also helps with fundraisers, organizes annual events for kids and parents, will counsel and consult with parents, and works with high school students who are planning on entering college, helping them with their scholarship requirements and submissions. She also spearheads all the projects involving the kids with NJTL contests that involve essay writing and art work.

Fair and firm, Casares is the glue that holds the Tennis Success program together. She was instrumental in Tennis Success receiving the 2014 USTA Foundation’s NJTL Chapter of the Year award.

Every child knows when they come into Casares’ classroom, they will not only get love, but help with homework assignments and fair and equal treatment. For Casares, every youngster in the Tennis Success program is a teacher’s pet.

— Ron Woods

MID-ATLANTIC: NJTL Mission Accomplished

Parents Vanya Brown and Jennifer Toomy planned a weekend event at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., for the weekend of March 31 that embodied the spirit and mission of NJTLs. The trip incorporated the spirited competition of Junior Team Tennis match play, cultural enlightenment and an inside look at the experience of being a collegiate-level tennis player.

Brown and Toomy volunteered their time to make the event an enriching yet affordable experience for the kids and parents in attendance. In addition to arranging transportation, Brown and Toomy arranged for discounted hotel rates and donated indoor court time to ensure the informative and engaging weekend was focused on the experience and not cost.

The trip included a tour of the college, attending a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity crossover event, bowling, swimming, JTT match play and attending a women’s tennis match.

— Ronnie Goodall

MISSOURI VALLEY: Making a Year-Round Difference

The First Serve NJTL program in Oklahoma City, Okla., is picking up momentum. Despite arson that destroyed much of the NJTL’s equipment as the program was just beginning in 2014, the organization, based at the award-winning Oklahoma City Tennis Center, has overcome that obstacle and has a new six-court indoor facility to provide year-round opportunities to its players.

Last year, First Serve reached nearly 800 children. This year, Executive Director Emmy Tigert hopes that number tops 1,000.

But the new indoor courts have Tigert most optimistic in terms of making a year-round difference for the children the program serves.

“To have them year-round is critical,” she says. “If they were to go out and play for their high school team, they’re likely to be facing kids getting private lessons year-round. The indoor facility allows us to level the playing field for the kids.”

With First Serve being a relatively newer NJTL, Tigert knows there’s plenty of room for growth. She sees the next big opportunity as developing its education program to continue to make a difference in the lives of children.

— Andrew Robinson



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