By Sarah Houseknecht
(October 22, 2013) The USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships represent more than tennis events – to make it this far is a journey that requires challenging one’s self to excel beyond any result on a court.
It’s a ride that one 14 & Under team is enjoying for the very first time. the Norwalk Grassroots Tennis (NGT) is a chapter of the USTA National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network working to change the lives of inner-city children in Norwalk, Conn.
“Our mission is not to produce champions, but to simply improve the lives of children of low-income families through tennis, education and life skills,” said Ellen Simmonds, Director of Administration for NGT.
In their 2013 Cinderella story, the players have long since surpassed their greatest expectations.
“We had made arrangements of only getting to state championships and stopping there,” said the team’s coach, David Kimani. “So going to Sectionals was an eye-opener, and the experience here at Nationals has been tremendous.”
For the group of youngsters – some of which had never been on a plane – the trip to Nationals at Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center is Cayce, S.C., has introduced them to a big stage.
“They are in awe of this facility,” said Kimani. “Back home, we practice in places that only have six courts. They see how big and beautiful the place is, and how many people there are – the excitement of making it to Nationals has overwhelmed all of us.
“You can see it in their faces how thrilled they are. I hope they use this opportunity as motivation to pursue what’s next.”
At USTA New England’s Jr. Team Tennis Sectionals, NGT upset the “Executive 14′s” from the Executive Health and Sports Center in Manchester, N.H. Afterward, in a show of great sportsmanship, the Manchester team donated budgeted dollars earmarked for its own trip to South Carolina to the NGT team.
“It’s unbelievable to have that type of support from a team that was chasing the same trophy,” said Kimani. “For them to turn around after playing us and say, ‘Hey we know you’re representing New England, and we want to give you this for your road to Nationals.’ It was beyond words to our board, volunteers and kids.”
With donations from well-wishers and with the help of foundations like USTA Serves, the national charitable foundation of the USTA, NGT was able to make its dream of playing for a national title a reality.
“The funding we have received from USTA Serves over the past decade has really helped us in building our Jr. Team Tennis teams,” said Kimani. “We started of initially with one 14U team and now we have six teams. It helps cover our expenses including travel, food, lodging and indoor court time.”