A 35-year hiatus from tennis wasn’t enough to keep Pam Copeland away from the game she grew up playing with her dad at their New Jersey home.
“My dad started me playing when I was 7 or 8,” she recalls. “He built a clay court in our backyard.”
A few years later Copeland’s family moved to Miami, where she began taking lessons and playing competitive junior tennis. The competition was a tipping point though for the young high schooler, who walked away from the sport after her freshman year was complete.
“I did not like the culture of competitive tennis,” she says. “Oftentimes, kids were mean and made terrible calls. Because of that, I quit for 35 years.”
For more than three decades, Copeland didn’t pick up a racquet or step on a court. However, that all changed when the family received heartbreaking news.
“When I was 45, my husband passed away from brain cancer,” she laments. “My two boys and I moved to Central Florida to be near my parents. I decided to retire from my corporate job and stay at home with my sons.”
The change was uprooting for Copeland. She found herself in an entirely new area where she wasn’t sure how to meet new people or make friends.
“I decided then that it was time to pick up a tennis racquet again,” she says. “It has been such great fun getting back into the sport even more so than ever before.”
Copeland started to realize that she was enjoying tennis in a new way. That feeling encouraged her to share her love of the game with others and become a volunteer at the Fort King Tennis Center, where she played.
“As cliché as it sounds, my dad taught me to always give back to the game,” she shares. “It also is very exciting to see people develop their passion for tennis.”
Tennis enabled Copeland to find a peer group when she needed it, which made her a strong believer in the social power of tennis. Because of that, she wanted to help new people discover the game and assist old players in returning. Never afraid to put herself out there, Copeland jumped head-first into leading the charge to propel the game forward.
“In anything, volunteers are crucial. It would not be feasible to have a pastime where you had to pay everyone for the time and knowledge you need to be successful,” she says.
The now 51-year-old has served as a volunteer league captain at the Fort King Tennis Center for four years. Currently, Copeland captains three teams that she doesn’t play on, something that she quite enjoys. One of her recent achievements was stepping up to captain a 65 & Over 6.0 team, giving the women, who wouldn’t have had a team otherwise, the opportunity to play. She also captained two 18-29 teams to coordinate schedules and ensure fair match-ups – a move that ended up resolving several rescheduling conflicts from previous seasons.
“I am always happy to step in and help where I can,” says Copeland. “I feel strongly that if someone wants to play, not having a captain shouldn’t stand in their way.”
Copeland’s passion and determination as a volunteer was so infectious, it caught the attention of USTA Florida Adult Play Coordinator Leigh Chak.
“Pam is an amazing asset to tennis in Ocala,” says Chak. “I appreciate her dedication and willingness to put her time and energy into promoting tennis at all levels.”
To get her more involved in introducing new players to the game, Chak invited Copeland to become a mentor for USTA Florida’s Love to Learn and Love to Play classes at Fort King. Love to Learn is a program custom-designed for adult beginners to learn the game of tennis in a fun, fast-paced, no-pressure environment. Copeland eventually embraced the role of Ambassador for the program, before becoming a coach herself!
“Leigh asked me to help with the program and I loved it. It’s also when I got the bug that I might want to teach,” says Copeland.
That teaching bug was beneficial for Copeland’s other passion – helping the local girls’ tennis teams. Copeland serves as the President of a local tennis association that not only promotes tennis in the Ocala area, but also sponsors clinics with area professionals for the local girls’ high school tennis teams. After becoming a coach and a teaching pro, Copeland donated her time to teach three different clinics at area high schools. She then turned to Chak about organizing a Love to Learn/Love to Play program with girls hoping to play high school tennis.
“We had 18 participants representing three different high schools,” says Copeland. “We thought it was terrific and brave for these girls to start a sport at their age with the knowledge that just the team practices would not be enough to help them get up to speed.”
Depending on the state of tennis come the fall, Copeland and Chak hope to offer another session open to all high school students, to help them develop their skills before potentially trying out for their school’s tennis teams come January and February. Until then, Copeland will continue to volunteer her time wherever and whenever she can on the court.
“I love teaching. It is very satisfying to help someone achieve a goal,” she shares. “Being a public facility, the Fort King Tennis Center makes it exceptionally easy to volunteer there. As a member/player and now a teaching pro at the facility, I hope I contribute to a culture of volunteerism, give back to the game and spread the love of the sport.”
USTA Florida thanks Pam Copeland for her dedication to growing the game of tennis in Marion County and the Ocala area.
Birthplace: Evergreen Park, IL
Family: Sons Mason and Carter
Favorite Movie: Casablanca
Favorite Food: Ice Cream
Favorite Travel Spot: Kauai
Favorite Shot: Backhand
My earliest tennis memory was… “Hitting balls on our backyard court with my dad.”
If I could play tennis with three people, they would be… “Martina Navratilova, and the Bryan Brothers.”
When I am not playing tennis I am… “Raising two teenage boys.”
My best tennis memory is… “When a student who is struggling hits their first really successful shot!”
I like to volunteer in tennis because… “I feel very passionate about giving back to the game.”
Interested in volunteering in tennis? Visit www.USTAFlorida.com/Volunteers to learn more about available opportunities.