A big milestone was celebrated by USTA Florida in 2019 – the organization’s 70th year anniversary. The Section’s rich history began in 1949, when Florida seceded from the Southern Lawn Tennis Association to form the Florida Lawn Tennis Association. That initiative was started by four volunteers and since then, the organization has been volunteer-run and has benefitted from its extensive and loyal volunteer group.
During the last decade or more, USTA Florida recognized it had not aggressively pursued new volunteers and as a result, relied heavily on the same volunteers. With the success of the organization being dependent on those volunteers who give their time and share their passion for tennis, the Section knew it needed to make volunteers a priority.
Throughout 2019, USTA Florida developed a Volunteer Recruitment and Engagement Program, aimed to bring new, diverse volunteers into the section while also increasing engagement of current volunteers at the local and section level. From that initiative came the Volunteer Aces program and the Leadership Academy.
“The reason why it’s important to bring in new leaders and volunteers is twofold really, I don’t think any of us could really be sitting here if somebody didn’t reach out to us, invite us in, mentor us, and help us grow and develop,” said USTA Florida Executive Director Laura Bowen. “I certainly wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for some of our longtime leaders who’ve mentored me and really encouraged and supported me, so I feel it’s my obligation to say how do we mentor and support others and bring them into the organization.”
The Volunteer Aces program debuted in November at USTA Florida’s 70th Annual Meeting and will officially launch in January 2020. The program is designed to be a clearinghouse for all tennis volunteer opportunities in the state, not just USTA Florida programs. USTA Florida will work alongside other organizations to post all tennis volunteer opportunities in a single location, an online platform, that can also be accessed from the mobile MyImpact App. Prospective volunteers only need to register once to be able to see every volunteer opportunity in their area. Project leaders will then use the system to track, recognize and reward volunteers for serving.
“With the new app and technology, we now have a more efficient way for us to communicate with volunteers,” said USTA Volunteer Engagement Coordinator Jasmine Baptiste-Apena. “This app is also easier to use, so in a sense, we’re breaking down a lot of those barriers from the past that made it more difficult for us to engagement with volunteers.”
No tennis experience is necessary to become a Volunteer Ace for USTA Florida. Volunteers can sign-up by visiting ustaflorida.com/VolunteerAces.
The USTA Florida Leadership Academy was unveiled in September 2019 with the mission of finding 30 motivated and diverse individuals seeking to develop their leadership qualities, business knowledge, networking skills, and professional careers. Those 30 individuals, now the 2020 Leadership Academy Class, participated in their first workshopping sessions with their mentors at USTA Florida’s 70th Annual Meeting in November.
The USTA Florida Leadership Academy provides participants with the chance to advance their careers while serving others, with the added opportunities to network with business and sports leaders across the state. The Academy also offers anyone who enjoys watching or playing tennis the chance to get involved in the sport. Participants in the Academy will learn everything from advocacy and teambuilding to communication and management through a series of modules designed to align the strengths and skills of the volunteers with the capacity in which they operate in the organization.
“Any time we can provide personal development opportunities for our players, members, volunteers and staff it will be of great benefit to USTA Florida,” enthused USTA Florida President Clark Higgs. “Having new people with younger, fresher ideas come in is always going to be good for the organization. We have to have good change and we have to embrace the fact that changes inevitable if we do that we will continue to flourish as an association.”
Volunteer of the Month
USTA Florida is thankful for all the wonderful volunteers who help make our mission of promoting and developing tennis for all possible. Each month the a volunteer who has gone above and beyond is recognized, regardless of their time served with the organization.
Here’s a recap of the volunteers that received the spotlight in 2019:
January: Ed Curtis
In honor of his wife who lost her battle with a rare cancer, Ed Curtis has continued to carry on her memory and raise awareness of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood afflicting fewer than 200,000 Americans a year, through his tennis instruction at The Villages and a series of fundraising efforts and events. Curtis is certified by the Professional Tennis Registry and has taught for almost 25 years. In 2019, his third year of fundraising events, he has distributed more than 150 gas cards to cancer patients, well-acquainted with the rigor and demand of cancer patients’ needs to travel distances to specialty medical facilities. His goal for 2019 was to hit $10,000 in total donations over three years.
February: Donald T. Green
An introduction to tennis in high school for Donald T. Green from his then-girlfriend turned out to be a boon for Pensacola tennis on the Florida Panhandle. Green, a resident of Milton, a suburb of Pensacola, for the last 11 years has played USTA League tennis, and as a captain has one specialty: recruiting and encouraging novice players.
“I am a team captain who takes on the new players with no experience, and allows them to gain court time in competition,” said Green. “When they start to show promise, they are recruited to more experienced teams. I saw the disparity locally in team skill levels and wanted to improve everyone’s playing ability.”
March: Helen Moser Petersen
Helen Moser Petersen relocated from Indiana to Bradenton, but immediately picked up her almost life-long work in youth guidance and tennis via education, bringing her inspirational book series to the Sunshine State. Through original funding from the Hamilton County Community Tennis Association (HCCTA) in Indiana and the national USTA Foundation, she created a reading program called Champion Reads, consisting of seven chapter biographies of athletes who overcame challenges and subsequently devoted their lives to helping others: Arthur Ashe, James Blake, Jean Driscoll, Billie Jean King, Sam McNew, Gale Sayers, and George Taliaferro. The books also include 36-page teacher guides which cover various school subject areas. More than 31,000 of the books have been read by all ages all over the country.
April: Traci Kendall
USTA League team captain Traci Kendall of Windermere, Fla., is looking forward to more runs at USTA Florida League Sectional Championships titles in 2019 and has extended her tennis volunteer efforts to working with and promoting wheelchair tennis in Central Florida. Kendall is in her fifth season captaining USTA League teams and booking her teams for an increasing number of trips to the USTA League National Championships. When she is not playing tennis, Kendall is working on her captain’s line-ups and her wheelchair tennis charity, Wheeling 4 Tennis.
“I raise money to provide disabled tennis lovers the ability to be able to play and do what I love to do every chance I get,” said Kendall. “Giving back is so easy and important. I also help out to pick up balls at the wheelchair clinic — I don’t want them to miss a second of hitting a ball over picking up balls.”
May: Sunil Patel
Long-time competitive wheelchair tennis player Sunil Patel has for that same long time been the sole face of wheelchair tennis in Tallahassee. That is now starting to change with some help from the Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA), the USTA, and his own volunteer efforts. A latecomer to tennis at the age of 34, Patel took up the game approximately 20 years ago as an amateur and quickly rose up the competitive ranks. These days, in addition to competing in national and international tournaments, he shares his love of the game by teaching disabled children tennis. He hopes to spur their love for tennis and create a next generation of wheelchair players in Tallahassee.
“[I do it] just to assist and help others learn the game of tennis, especially disabled and challenged children that never have played the sport,” enthused Patel.
June: Larry Liebman
Larry Liebman of Boynton Beach has brought his tennis volunteer-ism from New York to Florida, and is lighting-up the Valencia Lakes community and the surrounding area with tennis opportunities for local special-needs children. A volunteer for the “mood-fueled” Love Serving Autism program at Park Vista Community High School, he also teaches beginner clinics at Valencia Lakes, has worked to join the tennis and pickleball communities at Valencia Lakes, and has volunteered as a coach at the Kid’s Day event at the Miami Open professional tournament. He is a member of the first-year Valencia Lakes Racquet Grandparents 4 Kids program, which makes a local impact assisting children on the autism spectrum. Liebman and his fellow seniors provide instruction to the ESE students on the school’s tennis courts once per week.
July: Kevin Sims
Dania Beach’s Kevin Sims is responsible for much of the USTA League success of Broward County, which won the USTA Florida League Championship Cup, presented each year to the county that wins the most sectional titles, in back-to-back years in 2016-17. Playing out of Dillon Park in Oakland Park, Fla., a suburb north of Ft. Lauderdale, Sims has volunteered as a USTA League captain for more than 15 years.
August: Shirley Proctor-Paul
Over the last year, Tallahassee elementary school physical education teacher Shirley Proctor-Paul, a long-time tennis fan, has ramped-up her volunteer tennis involvement, a move which also benefits her students. For the last eight years Proctor-Paul has taken her students to the Tallahassee Challenger where the children participate in on-court and community events in addition to watching future stars at the USTA Pro Circuit event. Proctor-Paul has now completed training to become a Net Generation teacher and has incorporated the official youth tennis product of the USTA into her PE classes. She says she’s seen her students progress and develop skills in the Net Generation PE activities, skills that translate to the tennis court and play with their families and friends.
September: Les Leise
Unstoppable Les Liese runs the men’s tennis program and sells the memberships at the Parkland Tennis Center. The club is still fairly new, in its first two years, but has already won multiple state sectionals and nationals. He also organizes round robin play at the Parkland Tennis Center to keep his players on the courts between matches. His personal goal is to make more appearances at the USTA League National Championships than appearances on the surgical table during his 73 years – 19 to be exact – and thus far the Parkland resident is winning.
October: Sue James
The current Vice President of the Tallahassee Tennis Association after serving six years as President, Sue James’s her tennis activism and activity in the Tallahassee community has continued to grow throughout the years. She has 17-year combined volunteer history between the TTA, other local tennis volunteering, and serving the USTA Florida Section in volunteer roles. She is also past member of the former USTA Florida Community Outreach Committee, and while she loves to captain and compete, James says her first love when it comes to tennis is introducing children and adults to the life-time sport.
“I love that all ages and abilities can play,” she said. “Tennis is a life sport and a great form of exercise. It is so rewarding seeing how quickly players improve and I enjoy helping them reach their potential.”
November: Mike Null
Mike Null’s passion for tennis and his community is apparent – he is the current vice president of the Lake City Columbia Community Tennis Association (LCCCTA), and big proponent behind the grassroots effort to build a large city tennis facility to put Lake City on the map. Null and his fell LCCCTA members also fight to keep the city accountable for upkeep of the current courts in Lake City, where some are in various states of disrepair. Despite these challenges, Null and the LCCCTA continue to offer tennis throughout the year in several formats.
“I love my community,” said Null on why he volunteers his time to grow tennis. “I want to see tennis programs flourish here.”
December: Christy Drawdy
Christy Drawdy “had no idea how to hit a ball” when she took her first tennis lesson at the age of 25. Ten years later, and three children later, the athletic Ocala resident is an accomplished 4.5 player and represents a new generation of tennis parent and volunteer. The single parent supports her three children in tennis while captaining multiple adult USTA League teams and participating in local charity tennis events.
Those are just some of the highlights. To review more stories click on the categories below:
There are a variety of ways people of all ages and backgrounds can get involved with USTA Florida. To learn more about the opportunities offered, visit ustaflorida.com/volunteers.