Giving Thanks to Tennis by Giving Back
By Rick Vach, current USTA Florida Section Foundation Board Director and former employee of the USTA Florida Section and the ATP World Tour.
As our first full pandemic year closes, things are seemingly closer to “normal” in the Florida tennis community – but looks, in this case, are deceiving.
Adults are playing USTA League, kids Junior Team Tennis, and clubs are hosting tournaments in increasing numbers. But donations to non-profits have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and giving is what helps USTA Florida and its giving body, the USTA Florida Foundation, get kids on the courts – kids who would otherwise not be exposed to or not be able to afford to play tennis.
What has tennis given you?
If you enjoy tennis, if at some point it became a large part of your life, sit for a minute and contemplate what the sport has given to you. How many friends do you have due to USTA League or tournament or event play to this day? How many of you have met spouses or lifelong friends or godmothers or godfathers to your kids through tennis?
I’m still in touch with people on my high school team and college team to this day. My college team holds an annual reunion in the fall where former varsity players of all ages come back to the university for a day of friendly competition, messing around on the court, barbecuing courtside, and later over dinner sharing stories and good times.
I’ve made lifelong friends with players on my college team that played years after I did. But even if you came to the game late, if you didn’t play high school or college tennis, I’ll bet you can name players from your USTA League teams or players that you just have regular hits with, that play a significant part in your life. Friends that you would never have met were it not for the game of tennis.
Help a young player discover your joy
Giving has dropped off precipitously during the COVID-19 pandemic, but don’t tell that to kids throughout Florida. They want to play after being cooped up through the pandemic and school closings, especially those kids involved in after-school programs that provide opportunities for social interaction and personal growth.
The USTA Florida Foundation’s mission is to support grassroots tennis. What is grassroots tennis? It’s tennis at the very roots of getting people on the courts. It’s supporting the caring people willing to host free clinics, to start a 501c3 non-profit organization that hosts after-school programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods to keep kids off the streets and to complete their studies while experiencing the fun of tennis. These are the kids that could go on to play middle school, high school, and college tennis, or just fall in love with the sport at a recreational level and become a player for life.
Maybe you could pay it forward for someone in your life for who tennis meant a lot. When my college coach passed I vowed that I would get a Play Tennis Florida! license plate, where funds go to support the USTA Florida Foundation, every year from then on for what he did to instill my love of the game, and all the time he gave, and all the people I’ve met.
Give back to the game of tennis
How do you give back to the game of tennis? Volunteer opportunities abound throughout the state with the USTA Florida Foundation-funded after-school programs such as the Delray Beach Youth Tennis Foundation, the Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation (Vero Beach), the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation (Jacksonville), First Serve Miami, and other city locations where last year USTA Florida Foundation grants impacted 15,884 program participants. Or you can volunteer with USTA Florida and the USTA Florida Foundation to assist at events.
If tennis has played a big part in your life, the easiest way to show it is with a “Florida Play Tennis!” license plate, where the proceeds go to the USTA Florida Foundation and are then distributed to Florida community groups through grants. You can also sign-up for the RoundUp App, where 100% of the change received from rounding-up your purchases goes straight back into the communities needing it the most through grant award opportunities.
Visit USTAFloridaFoundation.com to learn about the other ways to give or volunteer in your local community. Learn more about the work the foundation does throughout Florida to get kids on the courts.
What has tennis given you over the years? This is how you can give back.