USTA Florida is celebrating Black History Month this February by shining the spotlight on members of the vast Florida tennis community.
We want to introduce you to Kevin Sims, who is a driving force behind much of the USTA League success of Broward County. In 2019, Broward claimed the USTA Florida League Championship Cup for the third time in four years and became the second county to reach double-digit sectional titles in one season – a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without Sims and the teams he captains. He was also named USTA Florida’s Volunteer of the Month in July of 2019.
Sims has an unrivaled passion for the sport that is reflected in his mission to bring people together on the court – something that surely resonates throughout Broward County. In 2019 he captained 15 teams in both men’s and women’s leagues, and in 2020, he hopes to captain 18.
How did you get involved in tennis?
The first time I held a racquet – and don’t look at me funny – it was a wooden racquet! My uncle, who was a PE teacher, took me under his wing and gave me a wooden racquet. He took me to some beat-down tennis courts and taught me some basic tennis etiquette and tennis techniques. In doing so, and I didn’t think much of it at the time, I grew to love the sport as I became older. I grew to want to contribute to the sport in any way that I could contribute.
What would you say is your contribution to the sport?
My contribution to the sport is focusing on my community and what I can do for my community. My contribution to the sport and my main goal is bringing people together; bringing anyone and everyone together. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, I don’t care where you work and I don’t care what your beliefs are – as long as you love tennis, as long as you have the drive for tennis and you have good sportsmanship – I want you. I want you to meet other people who love the sport as well, I want you to get out of your comfort zone and I want you to enjoy the sport.
What is your current role?
My role as a captain with Dillion Tennis Center and with the city of Oakland Park is recruiting talent and players for the club and for the league. My role as a captain also includes scheduling my players, making sure that my line-ups are proper, making sure my players are able to get to the matches and that they’re able to play. Sometimes it’s a babysitting job, however, I don’t mind babysitting just so they can reach their goals.
How would you describe your team?
My team… they are from different areas, different backgrounds, different cultures, different beliefs, different preferences. When they met for the first time, they got to learn about each other. They learned each other’s ways and they became a family. They united. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter what language you speak – they’re a family. They root for each other, they cheer for each other, and they even call each other after matches or just during the week to say “hey, how are you doing?” If they weren’t on the team, they probably would have never met.
How do you think tennis has brought them together?
Tennis united them. Tennis is a sport that they love, and because it’s a sport that they love they reach out to each other and cheer each other on. It united them as a whole and as a family.
What pushes you to go above and beyond for your players?
The reason I go above and beyond is because I love it, I love the sport. I love watching my players develop into something they didn’t think they could become. Some of these players I’ve known since they were 15 years old and now, they’re in their mid- to late-20s and I’ve watched them develop over the years. I have three or four African Americans who I saw when they were very young; they had a lot of talent, so I introduced them into the USTA and they’ve been playing ever since and they love it.
What message do you have for others about tennis?
I would say go to your local community center where they have tennis teams or seek out someone you know who plays tennis and just inquire “what can I do to get involved?”
What do you think about Black History Month?
Overall, Black History Month to me is a reflection month. It’s a reflection of where I’ve come from, where my family have come from, and where we have yet to go. That’s what Black History Month means to me – it means continuously growing year after year. Each month you reflect and ask “what did I accomplish?” and “what can I do next Black History Month, to make me a better person?”
Why is celebrating Black History Month important to you?
It’s important to me because I get to meet a lot of other individuals in my family and outside of my family. We talk about things going on in the world that impact us – how it has become worse, how it has become better, or how can we change the world in the future for our culture. One of the ways we can do that is by reaching out to the youth. It all starts with developing the youth so they are not looked upon as just being black – they are looked upon as a person with skills, a person with integrity, and an individual who is able to achieve.
As an African American, when I go to different tournaments with my teams and find success other captains look at me and say “wow, that’s an African American man who just won a title, that’s an African American man who just won Nationals… how can I get like that? What can I do to have a successful team?” After coaches see my team and they see us winning tournaments – they don’t just see an African American man, they see an African American man who did it. They see a black man with diversity on his team. They recognize that we’re successful and want to know how to get success like that. Even locally I have a lot of captains tell me “good job Kevin” – that comes after I built up their beliefs from when I first came on to the scene years ago. They tell me I’m a good captain and I tell them it’s not me, it’s my team that makes me great. My team doesn’t see black; they see a captain who loves them, a captain who does his best to get them to reach their goal, a captain who cares about them.
Why is it important to celebrate black history in tennis?
I think the importance of recognizing and celebrating black history in tennis is because you have a lot of youth out there who have not yet been discovered. The USTA reaches out to those kids who might not have had an opportunity, and they can find the raw talent and I believe they can develop that talent. Black History Month is a month when African Americans reflect on what brought us to this stage of our lives in our history. To tie it in with tennis, you have those role models like Serena [Williams] and Venus [Williams], that now the younger generation can look up to and say “you know what, I can do this, I can do this, look at that woman playing, I’m a girl too”. It gives them hope, and I believe Black History Month gives them hope.
Recently the conversation within many industries has been about equality, inclusion, and what’s being done to encourage it. How do you think these conversations could impact the tennis industry?
I think that reaching outside of your comfort zone and interacting outside of your comfort zone will make a stronger team for you. When my team goes to sectionals, we are the most diverse team because we include everyone; we reach out to everyone. I think if more coaches or captains reach out to other ethnicities and other cultures, I believe they can make a stronger team.
If you had to share your message of unity, what would it be?
My message is to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just stay in your comfort zone and think that everything is okay. Reach out to someone that is from another ethnic background or culture – expand your group. Reach out to everyone, because that is where unity comes from. Get out of your comfort zone! I think when it comes to tennis, it’s also the responsibility of captains to reach out to other individuals to get other individuals involved.
To learn more about USTA Florida’s diversity initiatives, click here.