The USTA Florida Section awarded its outstanding volunteers and achievers on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, when the USTA Florida Annual Awards were presented at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla.
“It is amazing hearing about all the outstanding achievements of these tennis volunteers and the impact they make in their communities,” said USTA Florida Executive Director Doug Booth. “It is really moving hearing the differences they are making in people’s lives.”
Here are the honorees from the 2016 USTA Florida Annual Awards:
USTA Florida Outstanding Tennis Family
The Kangwa Family of Fort Myers
Their theme is “The family that plays together stays together”
Tennis brought the Kangwa family — parents Patrick and Sibongile, and children Mukuku, Chilufya and Thandiwe — to the United States, and like lots of families, tennis keeps them together. But their level of volunteering and giving back to the Fort Myers community is where they differ from many families.
Sibongile, in addition to her tennis teaching and high school coaching jobs, volunteers to work with the local CTA showcasing 10 and Under Tennis, and volunteering at tournaments, for Special Olympics, the USTA Florida Coaches Commission, Early Development Camps, USTA Zonals coaching, free lessons for local kids who can’t afford to pay, and more. Patrick, a former Zambian Davis Cup player, has done much of the same in addition to hospice fundraisers at tennis clubs, and organizing family tennis events.
Their children Mukuku, Chilufya and Thandiwe all played the No. 1 varsity positions while in high school, and have all participated in tournament volunteering, and teaching 10-and-under players at camps, among other activities.
Sibongile says, “When we moved to the United States and Florida, the first friends we made were through tennis, and we have made wonderful friends for life. We both teach tennis for a living, and our kids go to school, all because of what tennis has given us. We try to give back by helping others in different ways because we have been blessed so much through tennis.”
USTA Florida Male Merit Award
Mark Taylor of Safety Harbor
Mark is an example of an adult competitive player who turned his love of the game into a mission to make tennis more enjoyable for his fellow adult competitors. He has done so by serving on Florida Section councils and committees ranging from competitive to USTA League to rankings, budget and finance, and more.
Mark says, “I like to be of assistance to make the overall tennis experience more enjoyable for players that participate in both tournament and league formats. I participate in both, and feel that I can bring a perspective unique to players of all skill levels.”
He currently serves on Florida’s Adult Competitive Council and Nominating Committee, but his “baby” has been the Florida Cup, the competition for which he volunteers as commissioner. South Florida competitive players are familiar with the longstanding competition that pits the East against the West in men’s team play, in age divisions from 35 all the way up to 80.
His additional volunteer work over the years has gone into rankings reform, sanctioning and scheduling events, and two terms on the USTA Florida Board of Directors. He’s also not afraid to take credit for making the motion to change the section’s name 10 years ago from USA Tennis Florida to USTA Florida. At work or play, Mark says he has most enjoyed the tremendous range of friends made through 15 years of volunteering. Knowing the work and effort that goes into it all, he says, makes the results even more enjoyable.
USTA Florida Outstanding Tennis Volunteer
Lynn Ford of Orange City
Her theme song is “Count on Me” by Whitney Houston
& Cece Winans
An after-school program for at-risk kids seemed like the perfect opportunity to Lynn to give back to her community through tennis. Four years later, she has worked to establish the Derbyshire tennis program in Daytona Beach as a 501c3 charitable organization, expanding their offerings and working as both a tennis instructor and the organization’s volunteer treasurer.
She says the mission of Derbyshire Community Tennis, Inc., is to promote and develop tennis in the community, with a dedication to making a life-long difference in the youth of today. She sees that mission through by soliciting donations off the court, and on the court not only teaching tennis, but speaking to students about their goals and dreams. One moment, she says, can stick out in a young mind, and influence them to work hard in pursuit of their dreams.
She was also instrumental in securing grant funds from USTA Florida, and building community support to resurface six courts at Derbyshire Park, including four permanent 36-foot kids courts. A certified USTA sectional chair umpire, her activities have also included acting as treasurer for her local officials association, captaining USTA League teams, coordinating Junior Team Tennis, and volunteering at USTA Florida League Sectionals and other events in Daytona Beach.
Her theme song, “Count on Me,” addresses undying friendship and dependability. Her word, she says, is her bond, and that integrity in the end is all we have to stand on.
USTA Florida Outstanding Tennis Volunteer
Kevin Johnson of Miami
His theme song is Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
It takes an even-handed person with a unique mindset to serve on the USTA Florida Leagues Grievance Committee — and to then come back the next year to work on the Grievance Committee.
Kevin is one of those special people who for more than 12 years has volunteered to serve locally, or at the section level, on grievance committees. He helps apply league rules, smooth out controversy, and generally exercises his positive outlook and an endless supply of encouragement to, as he says, “steer the player towards continuing, and growing, USTA League play.”
A current member of the Section’s League Committee in his sixth year, he volunteers for championship events and assists with grievances while remaining one of USTA League’s biggest supporters. In that span he has also served as Vice-Chair of the Section Rules & Regulation Committee, and Chair of the Section’s Grievance & NTRP Committee. You may have seen Kevin in past years volunteering in the USTA Florida booth at the Miami Open promoting USTA Leagues. He may be the only person to volunteer in both the membership booth, and on the grievance committee, and to say the experiences have made his positive outlook even stronger.
His theme song applies to both life and grievances. He says, “If I can focus on the positive and look towards an improvement, then everything WILL be all right.”
USTA Florida Outstanding Member Organization
Gainesville Area Community Tennis Association
Their slogan is “Tennis for All, Strive for Success, Play for Life!”
USTA national stole some of the thunder of this award when the GACTA was announced as the national NJTL Chapter of the Year Award recipient, and presented with the award at the US Open. Now the Gainesville community tennis association receives the Florida honor.
This is the first Member Organization honor for the GACTA since its founding 12 years ago. It is the first for Gainesville since the Jonesville Tennis Center, which the GACTA’s advocacy brought about, received the award in 2010. Two outstanding components of the GACTA are the Aces in Motion tennis outreach program, and their middle school tennis program that has become a model for other communities.
During the 2015-2016 school year, Aces in Motion programming reached more than 400 under-served African-American youth each week at 12 different sites in Gainesville. The GACTA’s no-cut Middle School Tennis league completed its sixth season this spring, with approximately 150 students representing nine schools, both public and private.
The GACTA’s community partnerships and collaborations are too many to mention, as are the number of Kids Clubs, Play Days, JTT and other USTA program initiatives. If parents or players can’t pay a program fee, they scholarship players, or find another way to make it work. President Anne Koterba says, “We stress inclusiveness and diversity. We are becoming much more recognized in the community, not just as a tennis organization, but as a non-profit that is making a difference in Gainesville.”
USTA Florida Outstanding Media Excellence
Mike Baugh of Fort Myers
His theme song is Jay Z & Kayne West’s “Brothers in Paris”
We may have to rename this honor, which throughout the years has been awarded mostly to traditional media such as newspaper writers. But in the 2010s, social media, bloggers, podcasters and the like have redefined media, and Mike Baugh has redefined tennis outreach through social media. Over the last year he has built an audience of the next generation of teaching pros, and those up and coming in the tennis industry.
In addition to his head tennis professional position and high school coaching jobs, over the last year he has popularized #NextGenTennis, a weekly podcast on the Coaching Radio Network for coaches and tennis enthusiasts. He oversees social media outreach for the USPTA’s U30 Initiative, both for the Florida Division and nationally. He also oversees social media for the USPTA Florida Division, and the USPTA’s Adaptive Committee.
Mike has taken up the challenge of bringing more players in their 20s and early 30s into tennis and tennis leadership positions, creating a network of Millennials and spotlighting their achievements. He leads by example, volunteering in 10 and Under workshops, at Early Development Camps, hosting beginner-level L8 and L9 tournaments to expand 10 and Under Pathway opportunities for young players, and running boys’ and girls’ no-cut programs as a high school coach.
His theme song, he says, gets the people going, the same as he is getting young tennis pros, players, and fans involved in what will be Florida tennis’ next generation of leaders.
USTA Florida Exceptional Adult Player Award
Selim Benbadis of Tampa
He says “One can always get better,” so his slogan is a saying by a former Green Bay Packers coach — “We have never lost a game. We just ran out of time.”
Dr. Selim Benbadis began the year ranked No. 1 in Florida in Men’s 55 singles, and as of this October was also ranked No. 13 nationally. The professor and director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital, the full-time physician says, “I think competing is healthy, and keeps me sane.”
Last year he won the section’s state closed title in his age group, and this year he’s won two stops on the West Coast Super Senior Grand Prix circuit. He finished runner-up at two national Category 2 tournaments, and at two additional Super Senior events.
For the last 15 years the Tampa resident has ranked between 1 and 5 in Florida in his age group, and has won his age group the last two years in the Florida Cup competition, this year helping propel the West to victory over the East. His tournament strategy each year is to play at least two national category 1 tournaments, and 4 to 6 category 2s. Over his last 20-plus years of competition, he says he has made life-long friends on the tournament circuit.
In the process Selim has become an advocate for senior tennis, encouraging players both young and old to compete. He says, “I tell them to join the senior circuit, and many have.”
USTA Florida “Bobby Curtis” Outstanding Tournament Director Award
Lowell Coffman of Davie
His theme song is, “Here Comes the Rain Again”
Lowell will tell you he’s seen a lot in his 32 years of directing tournaments at the local, sectional and national levels. Directing more than 300 tournaments has, he says, “challenged my ability to understand what I can and cannot control. Every tournament is a chance to provide a great learning experience for myself, the players and the parents.”
At the Frank Veltri Tennis Center in Plantation he oversees beginner and high-level junior and adult events. He retains a love of introducing new children and adults to tennis, and properly moving them up through the pathway with age-appropriate equipment. His events regularly attract 150-175 children in regular, green-dot and orange-ball play. His staffs at his main and satellite facilities keep up with the latest trainings, and even converted a hockey rink to host four 60-foot courts for kids.
He prides his events and staff with preparing facilities for all levels of competition, and providing excellent recovery after rain delays. Club members do not suffer during tournaments, as courts are always provided to ensure daily patrons get their play in — and club patrons often getting drawn in to cheer as tournament spectators.
In regard to his theme song, Lowell says, “It seems that we have rain at all of our tournaments, but we reset and get the matches played.” Lowell says he learned the art of tournament scheduling from Bobby Curtis. His reward, he says, is seeing young players develop, families engaged in a healthy sport, and former juniors as adults bringing their own children back to play.
USTA Florida “Al Mills” Outstanding Tournament Director Award
Mike Curran of Fort Myers
His theme song is “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
No, we’re not changing this to the Mike Curran award — even though he was in this same place a year ago accepting this award for outstanding tournament of the year for his 10 Point Tiebreak events.
This year Mike is our tournament director of the year for taking it a step or two further. After taking home last year’s award, Mike thought he would further experiment with short-format events. He added the Fast 4 format to his tournament offerings, then doubles for the first time with 10 Point Tiebreak events. Then Fast 4 mixed doubles, and men’s and women’s doubles. The events generally only take a day as opposed to players, and facility staff, spending a whole weekend. At one point this year he had 430 players over a span of three events, which he describes as “extremely” well-received by players.
His phone started ringing off the hook from pros seeking info on the events, so he volunteered his time to give Short Tournament Format presentations at USTA and USPTA workshops and conventions in Orlando, Tampa and San Diego. The presentations teach other professionals how to administer and maximize events for players at their facilities, and grow the game.
If you’ve played in any of Mike’s events you’ve witnessed his meticulous planning and player hospitality, and likely received a personal thank you note from him afterwards. In regard to his theme song, Mike says the main chorus, “Welcome to the new age,” is his motto for the new short-format initiative.
USTA Florida “Albert Carrington Balink” Award — Junior Player of the Year
Adam Ambrozy of St. Petersburg
His theme song is “Dedication” by 2 Chainz
Currently competing in his first year of NCAA tennis at Columbia University in New York City, Adam finished his Florida junior tennis career in style this past spring and summer.
Ranked No. 1 in the Boys’ 18s in Florida to end 2015, he rose to No. 11 in the country in 2016. In past years he did not play high school tennis to concentrate on junior tournaments, but this year he returned to play for St. Petersburg High as a senior, winning the boys’ state championship in singles at the 4A level.
A familiar face at the Bobby Curtis State Championships, he won the singles title in the 16s, and collected four state doubles crowns. Picking up tennis at age 6, he’s proud to say that during his 13 years he’s won titles at every level of Florida junior tournament. Also a true team player, he has represented Florida against other USTA Sections in Zonals play, and played for Team Florida at the Boys 18s National Team Championship in Illinois.
After graduating as an international baccalaureate student this past spring in the St. Pete class of 2016, he was subsequently named the Pinellas County Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year, and the Florida Dairy Farmers State Boys’ Tennis Player of the Year. “Dedication” is his theme song because, he says, “If I set my mind to accomplish something I will be dedicated until I do so.”
USTA Florida “Jimmy Gantt” Memorial Award
Carsten Balao of Orlando
His slogan is “Never, never, never give up!”
When Carsten competes at USTA tournaments in singles, he faces two opponents on the court: the other player, and Type 1 diabetes.
The Jimmy Gantt Memorial Award is presented to a junior player who has overcome a physical impairment or injury and continues to compete to the best of his ability — and Carsten has gone above and beyond that over the last five years. He feared he had to stop playing tennis at age 10 when he was diagnosed, but through careful management, he says, “it cannot stop my dreams of being a college player, and showing others that this disease cannot stop them from their dreams.”
A varsity player at his school, he volunteers at summer tennis camps, and for the last four years with his mother has organized and run a charity tournament that benefits The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation — raising more than $10,000.
It is sometimes difficult to play matches when his blood sugar is too low. Or too high. But he perseveres. This past May, his condition contributed to a pelvis fracture that kept him off the court for six weeks. Not letting the injury get him down, he worked with a trainer at his school gym to keep his upper body strong, and returned to the court playing better than ever. Over these past five years, tennis has given him the exercise outlet crucial to staying healthy with diabetes. Carsten says tennis has given him great friendships, and has taught him to make goals, and never stop working towards them. “I am stronger than this disease, and it will not beat me.”
USTA Florida Exceptional Youth Tennis Provider — Competitive
Scott Williams of Boca Raton
His theme song is “I Am Not Who I Was” by Brandon Heath
Scott’s tactical approach to providing competitive pathways for youth is two-pronged — offering various avenues to success such as tournaments, camps and team play — but also teaching kids to “serve” — producing well-rounded young adults that give back to their communities and tennis.
A member of the USTA Florida Coaches Commission, he also is a head coach for the Florida 14s Intersectional team, and a volunteer coach for the HIT program and sectional camps. The USTA HIT Program — HIT standing for Honor, Integrity and Trust — was started by Martin Blackman, now the USTA General Manager of Player Development, and USTA coach Andres Pedroso as a one-day training program that also stresses emotional and mental development.
His service also extends to founding a middle school tennis league in its fourth year, a tennis Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and serving on the board of the Florida High School Coaches’ Tennis Association. He is an author of multiple tennis books. For 16 years he has volunteered for the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Boca Raton, and he is honored, he says, to serve among so many great service leaders in Florida.
In regard to his theme song choice, Scott says, “I started off my tennis career with my list of things that I wanted to achieve, but learned over time that I was created to serve others using the game of tennis.”
USTA Florida Exceptional Youth Tennis Provider — Recreational
Christina Hill of New Port Richey
Her theme some is “Make Someone Happy” by Jimmy Durante
When you ask Christina what she does, she’ll tell you she’s a tennis teaching professional. But she’s really in the relationship-building business.
She brings tennis to children who may not ordinarily have the opportunity to play, through relationships with school boards, county commissioners and parks and rec. departments, all the way down to teachers, parents and students. At the section level she is a school tennis volunteer serving on the USTA Florida Youth Recreation Committee, and the School Project Team. At the local level she is president of the Pasco County Tennis Foundation, which she founded eight years ago.
Her activities include hosting a field trip in partnership with parks and rec. for Title 1 schools to try tennis, hosting workshops for elementary and middle school P.E. teachers to integrate tennis into the curriculum, training after-school providers to start Kids’ Tennis Clubs, advocating and applying for grants for blended lines and permanent 36-foot courts. She also hosts numerous Play Days and tennis festivals for kids.
An early 10 and Under Tennis adopter recognized as a Volunteer of the Month nine years ago, Christina’s theme song represents her daily motto. She says, “I try to make all the people I come into contact with smile. I feel as though I am providing a service in my community, and USTA Florida is part of my team.”
USTA Florida Exceptional Adult Tennis Provider
Art Richards of Rotonda West
His theme song is the “Star Spangled Banner”
The introduction of 60-foot and 36-foot courts years back was rolled out to the theme, “A Court for All Ages.” Few have embraced that philosophy like Art Richards in the Rotonda West community in southwest Florida.
The 60-foot court with orange balls is what he calls the mainstay of his four categories of programming: juniors, adults, family play, and Tennis for the Blind. The land for his courts was donated by a developer who stipulated the theme “Get Out and Play.” Art has embraced that with his “Easy-on, Easy-off” concept based on a long-ago-used national program.
For the second year he is volunteering to teach Tennis for the Blind on public courts, and acting as a Masters Tennis ambassador to get seniors and players returning from injury onto the 60-foot courts for low-impact tennis. He is one of only a few tennis providers working with the blind in Florida after bringing his talents to the Sunshine State 20 years ago. In 1978 he received the USTA National Community Service Award, presented during the US Open in New York, after volunteering to establish the Eastern Massachusetts Deaf Tennis Association.
As the volunteer tennis coordinator and teaching pro for the Cultural Guild of the Greater Cape Haze Peninsula, Art says he loves giving back through the sport of a lifetime, especially to populations who didn’t think they could play. He says, “Understanding that visually-impaired players can play with the able-bodied allows families to mix and all to enjoy this great game.”
USTA Florida Outstanding Diversity Achievement
Tennis for Fun — Accepting, Judy Moore of Brandon
Their slogan is, “At Tennis For Fun, tennis is fun!”
A United Nations of intellectually-disabled athletes come together each Friday for tennis on 12 mini-net courts for exercise, socialization, and Tennis for Fun’s requisite hugs in Brandon.
The free program for athletes is operated at a total of five locations throughout Hillsborough County, and is run entirely by volunteers who are certified Special Olympics instructors. Since 2000, when the program was started by high school student Nathan Moore, Tennis for Fun has served autistic and Downs Syndrome players primarily over the age of 18, and currently from age 8 to 56.
Tennis for Fun also trains athletics for the local- and state-level Special Olympics. This past year 79 athletes were entered from Hillsborough County. Eleven of the first-year’s 15 athletes still compete in the program 16 years later.
Beyond the court, Tennis for Fun also provides for parents of the special-needs athletes. Parents interact during the weekly practices, share experiences and act as a support group. The Tennis for Fun website also encourages visitors to give back to their community by starting a Tennis for Fun clinic with mentoring support. Life experiences and opportunities have traditionally been limited for special-needs athletes, and Judy says, “This continues to be our challenge and our goal.”