By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
On a day where the USTA family assembled in the nation’s capital to advocate the virtues of tennis, Chris Evert encapsulated the spirit of the stumping – tennis as a sport that can be enjoyed for an entire lifetime – when relaying a recent hearty on-court moment with her mother, Colette.
“My mom is now 85 and I’m still hitting with her, still proud when she says ‘nice shot,’” said Evert, addressing an audience of colleagues, journalists and fans at the National Press Club (NPC) in Washington, D.C. “Things have come full circle, but that circle still revolves around a yellow ball. For me, and for my family, it always will.
“I consider us extremely fortunate in that regard and I wish the same for families and for communities everywhere – because there’s nothing else quite like tennis.”
The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion’s speech served as an opener for 2013 USTA Advocacy Days, designed to highlight the work the organization has done in communities throughout the country and to propose new ways to engage a nationwide network of tennis players. During the hour-long address, Evert recounted a happy childhood based around tennis at Holiday Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with father, Jimmy, and siblings Jeanne, Clare, John and Drew.
“[My father] made a point of introducing the sport to all five of his kids,” said Evert, herself a mother of three who hits with her sons to maintain their physical fitness and her own. “The sport helped to connect us all as a family and helped us as kids to make new friends and develop self-confidence.”
The late Arthur Ashe had a similar start, as did fellow icons Billie Jean King, Stan Smith and the Williams sisters – all products of public parks, part of the ever-increasing population of participants who drive the game in the U.S. In 2012, the USTA invested $4.8 million in youth tennis initiatives with the mindset that providing programs and facility assistance, as well as building and refurbishing courts, will provide kids in every community a safe and fun gathering spot.
An annual participation survey conducted for the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association by Taylor Research and Consulting showed that of the 28 million people who played tennis in 2012, the greatest demographic increase was among children ages 6 to 11, up 13 percent from the year prior.
“Tennis can be a passport to a better, happier and healthier life,” said Evert.
Since her retirement from tennis in 1989 after 18 years as a professional, the 58-year-old remains a fixture in Florida, running the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton and the annual Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tennis Classic to help at-risk children whose families are struggling with alcohol and drug addictions.
“I still can recall after I became No. 1 in the world, I had a talk with my dad and asked him why he got me into tennis,” said Evert. “I figured he’d say because he thought I’d be successful and have a chance to travel the world and play the great tournaments and make a name for myself. He told me that the reason he taught me and my brothers and sisters to play tennis was to keep us off the streets – he saw tennis as a vehicle that would provide us all with a place to go after school where we would stay out of trouble.”
Advocacy Days brings more than 100 members of the USTA, including those from the USTA and USTA Serves Boards of Directors, the Advocacy and Public Affairs Committee, the Tennis and Higher Education Task Force and the NJTL network together for the purpose of educating public decision-makers at the federal level. Notable attendees for the two-day affair are Evert, USTA Chairman, CEO and President Dave Haggerty, USTA First Vice President Katrina Adams and Kevin Wensing, a member of the USTA Advocacy and Public Affairs Committee.
During last year’s maiden trip, members of the USTA held meetings with members of Congress, working together to establish the very first national Tennis Caucus to support the growth of educational and youth development activities through tennis, including after- school programs. On Wednesday, May 8, legislators and USTA partners will meet once more to speak on issues pertinent to both the health of the game and the population at large.
“Tennis can enhance and improve communities because it’s a social, fun, healthy activity that invariably brings people together,” said Evert. “Let’s face it – these days, every one of our communities could benefit from a little more togetherness.”