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By Clark Higgs, USTA Florida volunteer President
We observe Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of our Hispanic and Latino citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central/South America. The start date of Sept. 15 is significant because many Central and South American countries celebrate their independence on that date or within the week following.
Florida tennis has a long history of Hispanic influence due to its proximity to the Caribbean and the amount of international travel between, and trade with, South and Central American countries. The last 10 years has seen the USTA Florida Section truly focused on celebrating the impact this community has on tennis.
One of the earliest stories about this impact dates to the 1940s. Gardner Mulloy, who would become one of the founders of the USTA Florida Section, offered a scholarship to a young Ecuadoran player named Pancho Segura to play tennis at the University of Miami. Pancho won the national collegiate singles championships three consecutive years before embarking on a successful professional career that pre-dates tennis’ Open Era by more than 20 years.
In 2013, the USTA Florida Section launched the “Tenis para Todos” Hispanic initiative, an outreach program designed to encourage physical activity, tennis in particular, in the Hispanic and Latino communities. The section today organizes a variety of play days, family festivals, and other events to introduce the game of tennis to people of all ages in South and Central Florida. The theme is typically family fun and exercise, with lots of food and music geared towards these communities. Many of these events are now held in conjunction with other tennis events such as the Miami Open and the Delray Beach Open pro tournaments.
Fabrizio Alcobe Fierro, a Florida tennis parent, former USTA National Board member and head of the National Hispanic Advisory Group, has been of great assistance promoting and recording these events through his relationship with NBCUniversal and Telemundo. We continue to provide these events and functions in numerous communities throughout the Florida Section.
USTA Florida also supports several National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapters that provide after-school educational assistance and tennis instruction in communities. One of those chapters is First Serve Miami, which works with the underserved population and is headquartered at Moore Park. More than 80% of the program participants are Hispanic and Latino children. The NJTL is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year, founded by Arthur Ashe, Carlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder in 1969. First Serve celebrated this historic anniversary with a great Team Challenge event in August.
And of course, we have outstanding Hispanic and Latino participation in the USTA League program up and down the Southeast Coast of Florida, and the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. These teams bring a unique blend of enthusiasm, skill and excitement to local area play, but particularly to our USTA League Florida Section Championship events. Hillsborough County (Tampa area) managed to wrestle control of the USTA Florida League Cup away from Broward County (the heavily Hispanic-influenced Ft. Lauderdale area) by winning the most league sectional titles in 2018. Broward was the winner in both 2016 and 2017.
Needless to say, this population adds greatly to the diversity and joy that tennis brings to all Florida tennis players, and USTA Florida is pleased to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in September and October. We will be posting numerous stories about this heritage on our various social media platforms and our website. For more information about Hispanic Heritage and Tenis Para Todos, visit www.ustaflorida.com/diversity or check out USTA Florida on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In the meantime, I will look forward to seeing you on the courts.