School Tennis Profile: USTA Florida Foundation Grants
Danny Witt does not need tennis courts to teach tennis.
Especially with his target audience, kids in the K-3 grades. And especially with the new USTA Youth Tennis equipment, which allows him to create kid-sized courts anywhere with mini-nets, smaller racquets for smaller hands, lower-bouncing balls and throw-down lines.
“The kids really like the Youth Tennis equipment designed for children age 10 and under,” he says. “Most of them are being introduced to tennis for the first time, so it is all new to them and they don’t really have an opinion on what ball they are using or the court size. It is so important that the kids have the properly-sized rackets and are using the low-compression balls on the smaller courts.”
Witt now services five Jacksonville Beaches-area schools with tennis included in after-school enrichment programs. For each school he has received Youth Tennis equipment grants from the USTA Florida Foundation, the giving arm of the USTA Florida Section.
“The grants are so awesome because they allow me to get the necessary equipment for each school’s program,” he says. “Then I can donate most of the equipment to the school so that the kids can utilize it during recess and P.E. classes.”
If the name Witt sounds familiar, it may be the family women’s pro tour connection. Danny’s brother David, who was a touted junior before embarking on a pro career cut short by injury, is currently the hitting partner and coach for former world No. 1 and seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams.
Danny until last year assisted former ATP pro Todd Martin with his academy in Ponte Vedra Beach, but when Martin left to oversee the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., Witt turned his full attention to school tennis and his own developmental program for juniors.
“I really got started in schools programs a long time ago when I would go into a school and just introduce tennis through the P.E. classes,” he says. “Now I want to introduce tennis to kids that have never picked up a racket before, and I thought that the best way to do this would be through working with pre-K through third grade kids. Most schools have outdoor blacktop space or access to an indoor gym, and we can set up the Youth Tennis nets and lines.”
Witt says working with schools can be challenging with background checks, liability insurance and other hoops that are unique to each school or county to jump through. Court space is also limited, and he is working with the St. Johns County school district to possibly build more courts to broaden opportunities for K-12 students.
“I do have county contracts for certain courts, and I also work with the high school coaches at Ponte Vedra High School, so my programs are kind of scattered amongst a few different facilities,” he says. “What I am really looking for at this point is trying to encourage St. Johns County to increase tennis playing opportunities for the residents of the county, since we only have two tennis courts in the northeast quadrant of the county.”
The rewards, Witt says, outweigh the school bureaucracy hoop-jumping when he sees the results.
“That bit of frustration is no big deal, as the rewards in getting tennis rackets in up to 100 kids’ hands at these various schools is enough for me,” he says.