USTA Florida is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month this September by shining the spotlight on members of the Hispanic tennis community here in the Sunshine state.
We want to introduce you to 29-year-old Stacey Speller, who is a volunteer tennis coach in Volusia County and has been involved in the sport since the age of five. Stacey is a New Yorker with Puerto Rican roots; she was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx by her parents who were born on the island.
What is your current role?
I’d like to say that I wear a plethora of hats. I am a full-time wife to my phenomenal college sweetheart, Benjamin James Speller. I am a full-time mommy to my dynamic trio: Brice Jaylen, Selina Rain, and Blake Javier. I am a dog mommy to our six-year-old boxer/bulldog, Blaze. When I am not home, my 8-5 is transforming college students lives as a Student Success Coach at the great Bethune-Cookman University. I am a Youth Latin Dance Instructor at Royal Pointe Dance Academy. Last but not least, I volunteer as a tennis coach for ages 4-14 at two community sites in the Volusia County area – Derbyshire Community Tennis Center and The Shack.
How did you get involved in tennis?
I got involved in tennis at the age of 5. Luckily, I grew up in a community in the South part of The Bronx called Stevenson Commons that had four tennis courts beside my building. My mother and I used to walk past the courts everyday to go to my elementary school and in no time, I was enrolled in the free tennis program sponsored by the New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL) out of the Bronx International Youth Tennis Center (BIYTC) site.
Does your family play tennis?
All of my children have played tennis since the womb. I was playing Collegiate Division I tennis with Brice in my tummy. Now, Brice, 8 years of age, plays yellow ball 2x a week with a local program and 2x a week with yours truly. He is considered Green Dot under the USTA color ball progressive track. Selina practices red ball with her program 2x a week, however, she trains yellow ball with her mommy on the weekends. Blake can’t hold the racket quite yet, but as soon as crawling turns into walking, we’ll be hitting on some tennis balls! As for the hubby, he enjoys wiping people off the court with his bride in a fun game of doubles.
What do you like most about tennis and your role?
What I’ve always heard growing up is, “tennis is a sport you can play your entire life.” I never understood that comment growing up, but now that I’m nearing the third decade of life, not only do I get it, but it couldn’t be more spot on! Tennis has allowed me to meet people from all walks of life, travel to places I would’ve never seen during my childhood, stay in shape, maintain a level of great work ethic, discipline, and has shown me how to be a team player in all that I do.
As for my role in the game of tennis, I truly feel God gave me the natural ability to teach. My career fell into the hands of higher education and when I’m not out making my share of the family income by educating our young adults at Bethune-Cookman University, I am still teaching – whether I’m at the dance studio or on the tennis court. I feel as though it is my responsibility to give back to the youth through free tennis lessons, the exact same way it was done for me. Therefore, I take my role in tennis very serious. Teaching my kids how to play the sport is very important to me. I feel it’s a great part of the legacy I’ll leave behind. However, it is not enough for Brice, Selina, and Blake to be monsters on the court. I envision creating a free program in a community that can impact thousands of Latino and African American youth. Not only would the program grant them the opportunity to play the sport, but also the ability to train at a high-performance program which will certainly open plenty of doors for them in the future.
What message do you have for parents about tennis?
My message to parents about tennis is: get a racket in your child’s/children’s hand as soon as they start walking. It is never too early to start learning the fundamentals of tennis. Practicing things like throwing and catching a ball early can make a big difference on how your child ends up hitting a ball with his/her racket. Hand/eye coordination is everything. The rest will follow. Last but not least, follow the golden rule of making every tennis experience FUN! Chances are, when you inherent the golden rule, your kid(s) will never want to put down their racket.
What do you think about Hispanic Heritage Month and how do you celebrate it?
I LOVE HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH… now! I say that because my family never did anything to celebrate it growing up. I actually learned about it in high school but didn’t really get into it until I moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., for college. I found myself embracing my Latino culture so much when I didn’t readily have it. What I mean by that is, coming from a city like The Bronx, where Latinos were literally everywhere, and going to a city like Daytona Beach where you’re lucky to see one Latino in a month was a complete culture shock and wake up call. I never realized how much I loved my “Nuyorican-ness”, but more so, how much I missed it. Educating myself on what it meant to be a Latina and raising awareness about the Latino/Hispanic culture became a passion of mine and Hispanic Heritage Month became the platform to do just that. After a long pep talk with my Godfather, I was inspired to leave my cultural mark on the Historical Black College University campus I decided to make home – Bethune-Cookman University (BCU). I reached out to one of my Latino classmates in the spring of 2009 and from that encounter, we, alongside two Spanish professors birthed the Hispanic Organization for Latin Awareness (H.O.L.A.). Today, H.O.L.A. has had over 200+ members representing all types of cultures embodying the mission of, “bridging the gap between all cultures on campus, while educating the students on the Latino heritage.” Now that I’ve had the pleasure of being employed at my Alma Mater for the last almost seven years, I’ve had the honor of serving as H.O.L.A.’s Primary Advisor and you better believe that we make it our business to bring Hispanic Heritage Month to life at BCU.
Things we have done in the past consist of:
– posting a daily “Did You Know” Latino/Hispanic fact on our social media accounts
– organize a Latino/Hispanic round table where we invite students, faculty and staff to discuss important issues happening in the Latino/Hispanic community today
– conduct a movie night where the showing is Latino/Hispanic infused
– put on a 4-week boot camp to teach students conversational Spanish
– host a “Latin Heat” once a week to teach students, staff and faculty how to dance to different Spanish music, and much, much more.
It’s safe to say, I’m pretty much having a celebration every day during Hispanic Heritage Month and I can honestly say – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To learn more about USTA Florida’s diversity initiatives, click here.