Tennis Industry magazine


Growing Community Tennis: Hispanic Tennis Stars

As Hispanic tennis participation continues to rise in the United States, we recognize individuals and organizations that are helping to grow this sport in the USTA sections.

Increasing tennis participation in Hispanic communities has been at the top of USTA President Katrina Adams’ platform since the beginning of her term in 2015, and the USTA sections continue to seek further involvement from this fast-growing population segment. In fact, the latest tennis participation data from the Physical Activity Council and the Tennis Industry Association shows there are 1.88 million Hispanic players in the U.S., a 5 percent increase from 2015 to 2016.

Adams developed the USTA’s first Hispanic Engagement Advisory Group to promote and develop the growth of tennis among U.S. Hispanics, which for tennis providers helps to expand a vital market segment.

In the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month, which goes from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, Tennis Industry would like to acknowledge individuals and organizations throughout the USTA’s sections that are helping to grow this sport by bringing tennis to Hispanic populations around the U.S.

MIDWEST: Madison’s ‘Rising Stars’

Wisconsin’s Greater Madison Tennis Association (GMTA) is celebrating the success of Rising Stars, a Hispanic outreach program offered in partnership with John Wheeler of Nuestro Mundo Charter School and La Follette High School’s Nan Perschon.

Rising Stars is for youngsters ages 5 to 10. Initially created 15 years ago to provide underserved children the opportunity to learn tennis, the program was revamped to focus on growing tennis among youth in the Hispanic community. In less than three weeks, the refocused program had reached its session maximum of 31 participants.

Joe Tegtmeier, president of GMTA’s board of directors, gives all the credit to program coordinators Natalie Blonien and Adam Kim. “They did the heavy lifting,” he says. “It’s important that our volunteers and coordinators be involved and experience success. We’re happy to have new programming serving the Hispanic market.”

— Tracy Maymon

Caribbean: A Hero for All Players

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself,” said former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. “When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

That quote perfectly describes Héctor Báez, a leader who for many years has been nurturing USTA League players and captains.

In 2012, when Báez started volunteering, he registered six league teams. That number steadily grew, and he set records for registering more than 20 teams each of the last two years. Báez not only makes sure his teams are all well-educated about league regulations, he also makes sure players are in top physical shape. For his efforts, Báez received the section’s Captain of the Year award last year.

In addition, Báez is an advocate for tennis in the LGBT community, actively participating in the section’s diversity and inclusion programs. He is now working toward the participation of the Puerto Rico district tennis team in the 2018 LGBT Olympics.

— Blamilsa Corujo

Eastern: Bringing Families Together Through Tennis

Jasmin Melendez, the Child Care Manager at the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development Inc. (PRAHD) in Perth Amboy, N.J., decided to introduce tennis to youth as part of the organization’s programming. In doing so, she received a resoundingly positive response.

“Since baseball is huge here, we wanted to introduce a different activity that could have an impact on the kids’ lives,” Melendez says. “When parents see their child socializing and interacting on-court, they realize the kids are part of something much bigger. They are learning responsibility, teamwork, sportsmanship and the importance of fitness.”

PRAHD offers low-cost tennis opportunities to students ages 5 to 12 in summer camp, as well as after-school programming.

“Tennis has brought our families together,” Melendez adds. “It’s had such a positive impact on our city, and we will expand as interest grows.”

— Kelsey Clark

Southwest: 40 Years of Giving Back to Kids

In Robert Tapia’s 40 years on the courts, El Paso’s “Mr. Tennis” has introduced the sport to more than 10,000 children. Tapia, 65, grew up in El Paso and became hooked on the game — and on giving back — when he took a kinesiology class that featured tennis at the University of Texas-El Paso.

Tapia is both a middle school and high-school tennis coach, and for more than 30 years he’s run a low-cost NJTL summer program. In 2005, he won the national USTA Eve Kraft Service Award, and has been honored by USTA Southwest on many occasions.

“I like to get kids that nobody seems to want in any other sport,” he says. “I’ll walk around and ask a kid, ‘Do you play tennis? Give it a try.’ Then they come out once and that’s the moment you have to be on. You make it fun for them and realize that this is a kid who has maybe never touched a racquet before, and this is an opportunity to potentially give them some success, and maybe change their world.”

— Jeff Sikes

Florida: Husband-Wife Team Grows Tennis in Orlando

Javier Camargo and Zulcy Reina, from Colombia, fell in love on tennis courts. In 2009, the couple moved to the U.S. to find a better future for their family.

Camargo, a USPTA- and PTR-certified coach, uses his more than 20 years of tennis experience to grow the sport in the Orlando Hispanic community. Together with his wife, Reina, they keep up to date with USTA workshops and have provided free lessons to Hispanic children. In 2014, Camargo founded JC Tennis Team, which gives private lessons at four Orlando parks.

“We love to see the impact we have by volunteering,” says Reina, who with Camargo volunteer at numerous USTA Florida “Tenis Para Todos” (Tennis for Everyone) events at the new USTA National Campus in Orlando.

“It is amazing seeing Hispanic families choosing to play tennis over sports that are more common in our native countries.”

— Maria Romo

Intermountain: A Family Passion Helps the Community

Five years ago, the Mendez-Robles family would troop to city parks, hoping to arrive early enough to secure a tennis court so their 6-year-old daughter, Bella, could practice.

Since then, having access to tennis courts and to affordable lessons has fueled a family passion, and served as motivation and inspiration to make a difference in their community.

In 2015, Carlos Mendez and Michelle Robles founded TNNS Kids, an NJTL based in Las Vegas with the mission of “making tennis accessible to all.” TNNS Kids welcomes youngsters of all ages who have never played tennis before — and as an NJTL chapter, it has given free tennis lessons to more than 400 kids.

“Tennis has given our family an opportunity to positively impact our city’s youth,” says Mendez. “Our children, Bella, 11, and Amadeo, 4, are mentors and ambassadors for the sport.”

In partnership with the Clark County School District and City of Las Vegas, TNNS Kids visits Title 1 elementary schools in underserved Hispanic and African-American communities and introduces tennis. “We’ll continue to be inclusive with underserved youth and provide a road map for education and tennis,” adds Michelle Robles.

Southern: Growing Tennis in a Growing Market

In Hall County, Ga., the percentage of Hispanic students in the schools has risen to nearly 43 percent. So Marie Bartlett, president of the Northeast Georgia Tennis Association (NEGTA), figured the path to grow tennis in the city of Gainesville, Ga., was to connect with this surging young community.

“I want everyone to play tennis,” Bartlett says. “Here in Hall County, it’s important to reach out to our entire community, which includes these kids.”

Bartlett organized a summer-long Love Tennis program, supported with a $1,000 grant from USTA Southern. A partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lanier, Love Tennis drew kids to three locations, busing in more than 200 youngsters five days a week.

In May, Bartlett led a Hispanic Outreach Festival that drew more than 150 people in Gainesville. Seven tennis stations were augmented with a tennis/soccer area, with plenty of refreshments.

— Ron Cioffi

Southern California: Bringing Out Individuality Through Tennis

When it comes to giving back, it’s hard to beat the contributions of Anthony Lara of Chino, Calif. Once a top-ranked wheelchair player, Lara is a competitor who has a heart of gold and boundless energy.

Lara has been playing competitively for over 25 years, but in the last five, he’s concentrated on teaching and volunteering his time to promote wheelchair tennis, and using sports to share his message of motivation and inspiration. In 2016, Lara was named the winner of the national Brad Parks Award, for outstanding contributions to the sport of wheelchair tennis.

Lara also coaches at junior tennis camps, but says he enjoys working with youngsters most of all.

“The reason why I like tennis so much is because for a lot of the kids, the sport really brings out their individuality,” he says. “Tennis has given me so much joy, I just want to share that with all the players I work with.”

— Cari Buck

Middle States: Immersed in Tennis in Trenton

Andy Stoll first experienced tennis as an 8-year-old in Barbados, taking lessons on the courts next to his school. “I loved it. I just liked being on the court,” he says.

Now, more than four decades later, Stoll is sharing his love for tennis every day.

Stoll, who has worked with the NJTL of Trenton, N.J. for 10 years, spends his time connecting with children about tennis and life lessons. As the head instructor for the NJTL, he’s involved with the organization’s community programs, which provide free services to nearly 3,000 under-resourced children in and around the city.

Since Stoll lives in Trenton with his family, he spends a lot of time getting to know the youngsters around him. Participants come from many backgrounds, with Hispanic and African-American communities comprising a large majority.

“We have great kids, but they don’t always come from family-focused households,” Stoll says. “I like being a father figure to some of them and being a positive influence in their lives.”

Northern: Growing Tennis in South Minneapolis

Sometimes, you just need to ask. That’s what InnerCity Tennis (ICT) found out when it started programming in a highly populated Hispanic neighborhood in South Minneapolis.

Working with USTA Northern, Tenis Para Todos was born, providing free instruction for six weeks, as well as new racquets and transition balls. ICT blanketed local schools and churches with fliers, while USTA Northern financed a two-week television ad campaign with the local Univision station. They excitedly set up for the first day at a local elementary school — but no one attended.

Hiding her disappointment, Bao Thao, an ICT instructor, noticed a woman and her three grandchildren in their yard across the street. She asked the family to join her, and soon the kids were rallying together.

Within weeks, Tenis Para Todos grew to 20 participants. This summer, ICT is hosting two family tennis festivals at local parks.

— Lisa Mushett

New England: Enrichment Like No Other

“Wherever life has taken me, I’ve always been involved in tennis,” says Eric Cestero. “I’m never really going to get rich playing tennis, so what’s better than teaching a sport you’ve been so involved in?"

Cestero, a Puerto Rican native now living in South Hadley, Mass., was a high school and college player. He was an athletic trainer for former pro Gigi Fernandez and the Puerto Rican Olympic team.

Now in his 20th season as both a no-cut high school coach and a college assistant coach, Cestero has always had a unique passion for teaching kids. He offers free lessons regularly at a local park for kids who can’t afford them, and he led the tennis program at a new NJTL in Springfield, Mass., as part of USTA New England’s Hispanic Outreach Initiative.

“Eric is such a pleasure to work with,” says USTA New England Executive Director and COO Matt Olson. “He’s such an important part of his community and truly dedicates himself to growing tennis.”

— James Maimonis

Northern California: Feeling Welcome on the Court

Nestled in between San Francisco and Sacramento, Solano County has a 26 percent Hispanic population. Rafael Rovira saw a need to bring tennis to this large group. “I want to make Hispanics feel welcome and make them feel like they belong on the court, which they do,” he says.

Twice a week, Rovira runs a “Red Ball” program for kids 10 and under. “I’m able to teach them the basics, so I can introduce them to the H.I.T.S. (Honesty, Inspiration, Teamwork, Sportsmanship) Red Ball Junior Team Tennis program I’m starting this summer,” says Rovira, a Puerto Rico native who moved to Venezuela as a youngster, then came to the U.S. when he was 14.

Rovira is also the assistant men’s tennis coach at Solano Community College and the co-director of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery Men’s Pro Challenger, which takes place in October. To help expose the community to tennis, he also hosts Play Days and other athletic programs in the cities of Fairfield and Benicia.

Texas: Setting Records in Fort Stockton

Tennis is alive and well in Fort Stockton, thanks in large part to Fort Stockton Independent School District elementary school phys ed coaches (above, from left) Delma Sanchez, Deanna Carrillo and Ester Acosta.

In coordination with USTA Texas Tennis Service Representative Amanda Friday, the coaches have attended Youth Tennis in-service training sessions and other tennis educational sessions each summer to bring the sport to students at Apache Elementary, Alamo Elementary and the Intermediate School.

The tennis program has seen solid growth over the last five years, thanks to a supportive school administration and additional funding for local programs from the City of Fort Stockton and the Fort Stockton Convention and Visitors Bureau. The newly renovated Intermediate School courts now have blended lines, and last year the Labor Day Weekend One-Day Challenger Tournament saw a record 115 10-and-under players.

Pacific Northwest: Fun, Affordable Tennis for All

For communities in the Pacific Northwest, RecTennis is making tennis and life skills programs accessible regardless of age, skill level and socio-economic background. This year, RecTennis boosted efforts to bring affordable tennis to Hispanic communities across Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Idaho.

In Yakima, Wash., for example, 37 percent of the population identify as Hispanic. RecTennis programs — including Tennis Afterschool Zone, Friends + Family Tennis, and Summer Tennis Camp — are helping to bring the sport to this vital segment. Programs cost as little as $1 per session at Title I Schools for Tennis Afterschool Zone, and scholarships are available for all other programs.

To help spread the word about RecTennis programs, the section created and distributed bilingual marketing materials and placed ads in Hispanic newspapers and publications. As of June, more than 1,000 Hispanic participants have joined in RecTennis programs in multiple PNW communities.

— Celene Robert



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