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Mary Pierce, MaliVai Washington Among 2013 USTA Florida Annual Award Honorees

December 6, 2013 09:15 AM
Multiple Grand Slam winner Mary Pierce of Bradenton and Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington of Jacksonville were among the honorees on Dec. 7-8 when USTA Florida (United States Tennis Association-Florida Section) presented its year-end awards at the 2013 USTA Florida Annual Meeting & Volunteer Celebration.

The 64th edition of the annual awards were held at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando. The weekend celebrating Florida tennis volunteers and community activists also included educational sessions, panel discussions, a tennis mixer and a Masters Tennis (55 short court) event, the Starry, Starry Night Awards Dinner & Dancing, and the Sunday Breakfast with the Stars awards.

Here are the award winners from the 64th USTA Florida Annual Meeting & Volunteer Celebration:

Hall of Fame Award

Mary Pierce of Bradenton
Motto, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going!"

Mary's Florida junior tennis accomplishments are not as overwhelming as other celebrated players, but that's what happens to junior prodigies who, only four years after first taking up junior tournament tennis, turn pro with almost immediate success.

pierce_hall_of_fameIntroduced to tennis at age 10, Mary by the age of 12 was ranked No. 1 in Florida, then No. 1 in the country. She battered opponents off the court with her trademark heavy ball striking, turning pro at 14. At age 15 she reached her first WTA semifinal and cracked the Top 100 on the WTA Rankings. By age 16 she was ranked in the Top 50 and has won her first title. Four years later she was raising the trophy at the Australian Open, ranking a career-high No. 3 in the world. During her pro career she would go on to win the French Open and finish runner-up at the US Open, claiming a career 18 WTA singles titles.

"Wow...OK, I'm pretty emotional," said Pierce, fighting back tears throughout her speech after accepting the award. "This is really special for me. Tennis really means a lot to me. It's given me a lot of wonderful things in my life. The most important thing I want to say is how much I love my family. They're here tonight and I'm so grateful. My dad, I'm so grateful for all the things you did for me...mom thanks for everything, you were always there for me. And my brother who was always there, he sacrificed a lot and traveled with me...Florida has done a lot for me, and thank you for electing me to the USTA Florida Hall of Fame, it's very special to me."

She enjoys working with charities across the globe, and among her many awards are two that provide insight into her personality: the 2002 WTA Fan Award, voted by more than 70,000 fans for being the nicest player on tour; and the 2006 Meredith Inspiration Award at the Family Circle Cup, recognized for inspired women worldwide to achieve their personal and professional goals through her work.

More important to Mary than her 12 wins over different No. 1-ranked players during her career has been her ability to overcome tough times. She says, "Because I have been through so much adversity in my life and in my tennis career, I have come out stronger, better, having learned something and grown from it."

Merit Award (Male)
MaliVai Washington of Ponte Vedra Beach
Motto: "Serving Hope, Changing Lives"

When Andre Agassi makes an appearance at your annual gala, as he did this year for the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, your organization is probably making a difference. But it wasn't Andre's first appearance at the Mal Gala, just as this isn't Mal's or his foundation's first recognition. Far, far from it.

Washington_male_meritEvery year seems to be a landmark in terms or achievements or grants received or awards bestowed for Jacksonville's MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, which Mal founded after retiring from his pro tennis career. He doesn't take a paycheck, and over the years many contributions have come from his own pocket. He and his staff from humble beginnings as an after-school tennis and study program in a community center have grown into a multi-million dollar complex serving children in the most challenged neighborhood in Jacksonville.

"When I said on the [award] video I could take all of you still on the tennis court, I should say 99 percent of you, because I looked over at Mary [Pierce] and she was like, 'Whatever,'" Washington said upon receiving the award after his introduction video. "This is a team award -- it's not just about me, it's not just about my executive director Terri Florio, but it's about our staff and volunteers who put so much effort into what we're trying to do with our foundation."

Some of his personal recognitions have included the ATP Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Citizen of the Year Award, Take Stock in Children Inaugural Partner of the Year, Governor's Points of Light Award, and Boys & Girls Club Man and Youth Award, among many others. He says, "We are recognized throughout the country as one of the premier youth tennis and education organizations, and in Jacksonville as one of the top youth development organizations. Through USTA Florida support, my volunteer efforts have been amplified, and I am strongly committed to being an advocate of USTA Florida and 10 and Under programming."

Hall of Fame Award

Blaine Willenborg of Miami Shores

In 1968 the Open Era of professional tennis had just begun, and an 8-year-old Blaine Willenborg was immersing himself in tennis in South Florida, intent on creating his own era of junior dominance.

Willenbourg_hall_of_fameIn 1972 he debuted on the Florida 12-and-under rankings, quickly climbing to No. 1, then the national No. 1 ranking. He repeated the feat in the 14s division, winning the Jr. Orange Bowl and climbing to No. 1 in the world. His junior career through the 18s encompassed the No. 1 ranking in each age division and eight national Gold Balls, ranked No. 5 in the world in the 18s. He also represented the Florida Section in national competitions, and was named to the U.S. Jr. Davis Cup team.

He continued to play high school tennis throughout his junior career, posting a 70-1 singles record and joining Chris Evert as the only high school players to win three individual Florida state singles championships at the No. 1 position. He attended UCLA, where he won the deciding points when the Bruins captured the 1979 and 1982 NCAA national team championships.

"This is a great honor for me," Willenborg said upon receiving the award. "My wife has been there to guide me and support me, she's been my emotional support system, if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be here."

Blaine went on to a pro career where he ranked Top 50 in singles, and No. 13 in doubles, partnering players such as Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl, and reaching doubles quarterfinals at the French and US Open. At home the apples haven't fallen far from the tree as one of his children, his youngest son Blaine Andrew Willenborg, last year led his high school to its first-ever state championship.

Member Organization of the Year

Friends of Miami Tennis (accepted by Bruce Boiko)
Motto or song: "There is a reason tennis starts with love"

Still the only facility in the country to have permanent 36-foot and 60-foot youth courts in addition to blended lines on all of their 78-foot courts, the Tamiami Tennis Center, managed by Friends of Miami Tennis, kept on giving in 2013.

Boiko_member_orgAmong the activities and events this year were annual free workshops for Special Olympics athletes and new year-round programming, USTA play days and festivals, a junior and adult wheelchair tennis program partnership with Miami-Dade County Parks & Rec., and new 10 and Under Team Tennis Challenge events. An additional four 60-foot courts were celebrated by USTA national as "Court 10K," the 10,000th court built nationwide with USTA funding, and in conjunction with Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign.

"It's an honor to receive this award on behalf of Friends of Miami Tennis," said board member and President Bruce Boiko. "I know there are a whole number of tennis organizations that are deserving, so it is a special honor."

Closed and left abandoned by the county for three years after Hurricane Wilma, Friends of Miami Tennis resurrected the center in 2008, providing affordable programs available to all ages and levels. Featured is 10 and Under Tennis instruction using low compression balls, kid-friendly racquets and youth-size courts. They also provide every program option imaginable, from support of high school and college tennis to thriving adult leagues, high performance programs, charity support, and a firm commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Friends of Miami Tennis attribute a quote from the late Arthur Ashe to describe their community efforts -- "From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however makes a life."
Volunteer of the Year Award

Amber Hill of Naples
Motto or song: Beatles, "With a Little Help From My Friends"

As a volunteer-led, non-profit organization, our volunteers are critical to the success of USTA Florida. In addition to tennis know-how, each bring additional skill sets, be they people or project skills, that help move the organization forward.
hill_volunteer_of_the_yearAmber Hill is a volunteer whose skill set also serves her fellow volunteers, and makes USTA Florida better as a whole. Serving on the section's Volunteer Committee, she has used her expertise as an instructional system designer to improve and increase volunteer communications. She also serves as a liaison to the 10 and Under Committee, and on the Annual Meeting Project Team she reviews current processes and works with staff to look for ways to further improve communications.

"Volunteering for USTA Florida has really given me a confidence I didn't have before in my life, so I really appreciate it," Hill said upon receiving the award. "As I'm thanking friends, tennis is one of my best friends, and I will continue to do everything I can do to give back to the sport."

If that weren't enough, she also finds time to sit on an advisory board for leagues in Collier County, act as a 10 and Under Tournament evaluator for the USTA Florida Leagues Dept., pitches in on fundraising efforts for the USTA Florida Section Foundation, and assists Naples local league coordinator Linda Kleitch whenever she can. 

Amber says, "When I am not playing tennis I am either watching it, watching my kids play, or thinking about when I can next play and how I can improve. Tennis has enriched my life, and I want to do what I can for tennis and USTA Florida. It has been an amazing confidence booster to work with such a great group of people."

Merit Award (Female)

Judy Foster of Clearwater
Motto or song: Gloria Estefan's "Reach"

This introduction would need its own 30-minute PowerPoint presentation to properly cover all the awards, activities, boards and committees served on, etc., that Judy has received or been a part of during her years of tennis volunteer service to the USTA Florida Section.

In 2013 Judy celebrated 10 years as executive director of the Suncoast Tennis Foundation, and 14 years serving the USTA Florida Section as a volunteer. She represents the section at both the state and national levels, and has been involved in everything from 10 and Under Tennis up to the USTA Pro Circuit events. The Suncoast Tennis Foundation's annual Tennis Block Party is recognized as one of the largest CTA-run events in the country. In Florida she has for more than 10 years mentored new Community Tennis Associations in regard to their organizational structure, application for 501(c)(3) status, Articles of Incorporation, insurance needs, and the myriad other areas of expertise involved. In short, she has been an invaluable resource not only in Clearwater, but to the entire USTA Florida Section and the national body of the USTA.

"I will continue to volunteer as much as I can, and in every way that I can, for USTA Florida," Foster said upon receiving the award. "With my husband Nick, you are my family."

On the song title that best describes her, "Reach" by Gloria Estefan, she says, "Part of the lyrics of this song include, 'I'm gonna be stronger, knowing that I've tried my best. I'd put my spirit to the test..." I know that even if I fail in something one day, I'll be stronger for that and knowing I have tried my best, I'll succeed the next time."
Hall of Fame Award

Ivan Baron of Parkland
Saying by George Bernard Shaw, "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing"

Ivan Baron's junior tennis career remains one of the most dominant in USTA Florida history over the last 25 years. He ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in every age ranking category in Florida, and nationally ranked No. 2 in the 12s and 14s, and No. 1 in the 18s.

baron_hall_of_fameIn 1990 he upped his game another level, never losing a match to an American player, and reaching No. 1 in the world after becoming the rare American to win the Italian Open juniors on clay. No American junior male has won the title since. That year he also reached the quarterfinals at the French Open juniors, and the semifinals at Wimbledon juniors.

His junior resume included four national singles and doubles titles in 10 finals in the 12s through the 18s divisions, also winning the USTA Florida Bobby Curtis Junior State Championships in the 12s, 14s, and 16s divisions, and representing Florida on sectional and national teams. Turning pro in 1991, he displayed his claycourt acumen at the 1995 ATP International Red Clay Tennis Championships in Coral Springs, Fla., defeating then-world No. 11 Magnus Larsson, and reaching the doubles final.

After playing on the pro tour, Ivan went back to school for his MBA in marketing and management, leading to current his position as tournament chairman for the ATP Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

"I want to thank the USTA Florida staff for all they've done past and present, they really work hard in everything they do," Baron said upon receiving the award. "I want to thank everyone in Delray Beach with all they've done running the junior events, without them we would have nothing. It's also great to be the No. 4 seed on this award platform tonight -- between Mary [Pierce], Mal [Washington] and Blaine [Willenborg], I would be the No. 4 seed."

Official of the Year

Kimberly Bonk of Lutz
Motto or song: "I'll Be There" by the Jackson 5

bonk_official_of_the_year"Responsibility" could be Kimberly's mantra -- from this year being elected president of the Bay Area Tennis Officials Association, replacing a president of more than 15 years, to her 10 years of officiating over all levels of tournaments, starting at local tournaments and advancing to calling lines at the US Open.

She lists "demonstrating fairness to players" as her greatest responsibility and attribute, an ability to fairly apply the rules of tennis after hearing both sides of a disagreement, and contributing to the advancement and success of the game. She also functions as a mentor to lesser-experienced umpires on tour, a responsibility she takes great pride in.

"I am still aware of what it is like to be new and inexperienced," she says. "It is rewarding to be a part of people's journeys in a field that I love. Whether it is helping an 8-year-old with a tiebreak one day, and what seems too soon, being his or her chair umpire at a college match, then calling lines for him or her at a pro tournament. My part may be small, but what I have learned over the years is the players never forget you, and remember you as a vital part of their development. The same is true for an official that you help and encourage along the way."

She became certified in 2003 after Tampa tennis instructor Dave Freeman encouraged all his students to attend a men's USTA Pro Circuit event, where she found herself watching the line umpires more than the players, and the rest is history.

Al Mills Memorial Adult Tournament of the Year

Helen Drake Invitational, Miramar Beach (Accepting the award, Joe D'Aleo)
Motto or song: Bob Marley lyric, "Everything is going to be all right."

trn_of_year_daleoIf you're experiencing deja vu at this moment, you're not going crazy. If you've been involved in Florida tennis long enough, this is the third time you've seen the Helen Drake Invitational collect the Al Mills Memorial Adult Tournament of the Year award in the tournament's 30-year history.

The tournament has grown to become a Florida Section Championship for national ranking purposes for the Men's 30s, 40s, and 50s divisions, and all of its women's divisions. Approximately 300 players compete in the annual event at the TOPS'L Beach & Racquet Resort, drawing competitors from Florida, the Southern U.S., and all over the country.

Tournament Director Joe D'Aleo says, "I like to think of the Helen Drake as an event. Some players tell me this is the only tournament they play all year. With play going into the night, it becomes a spectator's cocktail party, we like to call it 'Night at the US Open.'"

One of the highlights of the event is the player's party, which raises money for the local Sandestin Lions Club charity, featuring live music, food, drinks and more amenities. D'Aleo says, "Our goal as a staff is to make sure every player has a great experience on and off the court, and is able to enjoy all the amenities that TOPS'L has to offer being right on the Gulf of Mexico. Having great customer service and patience is key."

Female Player of the Year

Mary Dailey of Delray Beach
Slogan: "Whatever It Takes"

dailey_female_player_of_yearThe Female Player of the Year Award is presented to an adult player considered to have not only the most outstanding performance on the court, but it also considers sportsmanship and character. Mary Daily has best embodied these qualities in 2013, reaching the No. 1 ranking in the U.S. in the Women's 45s and Women's 35s doubles, and No. 4 in the international Women's 50s doubles rankings.

Her team play has also consistently helped the U.S. finish in the upper echelon of ITF international competition. As a player she has been chosen to represent the USA on six ITF World Championships teams, in 2007-10, and in 2012-13, winning the 2009 Margaret Court Cup world title for the Women's 45 and over. Her leadership has seen her named captain of international teams, and this year her squad finished third at the ITF World Championships.

In 2013 she showed that age is no barrier by winning U.S. national titles in three different age groups.

"'Whatever It Takes' describes my pursuit to be the best person that I can be," says Dailey, who was first recognized in 1980 with the Middle States Tennis Association Girls' Sportsmanship Award. Thirty-three years later, little has changed in regard to her pursuit of sportsmanship and excellence combined.
Male Player of the Year

Mario Tabares of Miami

tabares_male_player_yearThe 48-year-old Tabares first saw the promise of 2013 in April, when he won the USTA Men's 45s National Clay Court Championships in Ft. Lauderdale in both singles and doubles.

Between raising three girls with his wife and operating a tennis shop in Miami, Tabares also found the time in 2013 to represent the U.S. at the Potter Cup in Barcelona; to captain the U.S. Men's 45 team at the ITF World Championships in Antalya, Turkey; and to participate in major Men's 45s tournaments in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

His miles logged and trophies raised resulted in his being listed by the USTA as No. 1 in the national Men's 45s singles standings, and No. 1 in the national Men's 45 doubles team standings as of this October.

He first broke new ground in 1988 by becoming the first Cuban player to compete at a tour-level event when he qualified at the ATP event in Barcelona, and competition continues to drive him in age-division play today. Also the captain of a Jr. Team Tennis squad that won the Florida Sectionals this year, he says, "Tennis is my life and my passion. USTA allows me to consistently stay active, compete, and get involved in the level that I want in different types of activities like conferences, clinics, pro-am, and countless tournaments."

Bobby Curtis Junior Tournament of the Year

Jaimes Tennis Super Series, Pembroke Pines 
Motto: "Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and leave the rest to God"

If a junior player is spending their birthday at the Jaimes Tennis Super Series, tournament staff will have a surprise in store. And if any problems arise, they can likely be solved by reaching into Lynn Jaimes' magic tournament emergency bag, which carries everything from shoelaces for players to sun screen to playing cards for rain delays.

Lynn says, "It is important to provide a fun, welcoming environment. I always try to think what I would want at an event if I was a participant. I think it is also important in all aspects of life to genuinely make people feel seen, heard and remembered." Jaimes Tennis has run USTA junior tournaments for 18 years, which Lynn attributes to her love of grassroots junior tennis. Her company also assists 12 other local pros and clubs in running events to, as she says, "make them the very, very best."

As with many of the best-run events, you hear the words "customers" and "customer service" over and over again when speaking with the Jaimes Tennis staff, who want players and their families to feel they are "returning home" each year. The event also partners with a local non-profit organization, and teach kids the importance of giving back to their local community.

This year they also introduced the Smile Revolution, where players and parents alike at events note what makes them smile, documented on a smile chalkboard with a photo. Lynn says, "Running events is truly what I was put on this earth to do. I think you have found your passion in life when work doesn't feel like work."

Junior Competitive Coach of the Year

Eric Hectman of Miami
Motto or song: Eminem's "Lose Yourself"

hectman_jr_competitive_coach_of_the_yearSince graduating as a top player from the University of Miami seven years ago, junior coach Eric Hechtman has been all about leading through example. The director of junior tennis at Royal Palm Tennis Club can one day tell his tournament-level players about the virtues of training hard for success, and the next day show them by winning the Florida Section US Open Playoffs and advancing to nationals, as he did in 2012, and competing again in 2013.

Some of the top juniors following Eric's blueprint for hard work and success have been Chase Perez-Blanco and Baker Newman, college players Chanelle Van Nguyen and Nicholas Nieto, and Boys' 10s talents Matthew and Ryan Fung. Many of his players are former age division winners at the USTA Florida Bobby Curtis Junior State Championships.

He says, "I have tried to instill work ethic, sportsmanship, respect, and responsibility into these young players in order to help build a future generation of tennis in the Miami area. Greatness in all of these aspects is contagious, and I hope it will spread throughout the community."

In regard to his song title motto, he says "Tennis and athletics are determined so much by teaching others how to own the crucial moments in sports." He also credits his success to his wife Alexandra, who he married this year, saying she has helped him stay focused and committed as a tennis coach.

Albert Carrington Balink Award

Chase Perez-Blanco of Miami
Motto or song: David Cook's "Time of Your Life"

perez_blano_jr_player_of_yearMiami produces the Junior Player of the Year for a second consecutive year in Chase Perez-Blanco, who climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the Boys' 16s singles, capped by the Boy's 16s title at the USTA Florida Bobby Curtis Junior State Championships. It was the second consecutive year he took home the Boys' 16s title.

Chase is also a multiple sportsmanship award winner at both the Florida Section and USTA national level, embodying this award that honors results not only on the court, but also conduct and character. A self-described "little shy introverted kid" when he started tournament play, he credits tennis and the familiar faces, from fellow players to referees and tournament directors, to helping him find his niche.

He says, "I can remember when I received my first USTA membership card in 2006. I really felt special, but had no idea then where that card would take me. I will not get rid of any of my trophies, because each one has a story behind it." This year Chase also represented USTA Florida on intersectional and national teams, and was the singles and doubles winner at the high school 2A state championships.

He and his brother organize back-to-school supply collections for in-need students at a local elementary school, and are involved with "Give the Gift of Sight" to collect used eyeglasses for the less fortunate. If Chase has his way, you will also be seeing him again in the coming years, as he now takes his talents to the Boys' 18s division.

Jimmy Gantt Memorial Award

Stu Contant of Boca Raton
Motto or song: from Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't everything...it's the only thing"

contant_wheelchairAfter only a handful of years playing tennis, introduced to the game upon joining a spinal cord injury club, Stu Contant has rapidly risen in the Florida, and then national, wheelchair rankings. Finishing 2012 ranked No. 1 in the "C" Division, his transition to "B" Division play in 2013 has been a smooth one.

The retired U.S. Army pilot survived a near-fatal plane crash in Afghanistan in 2002, and it wasn't until 2012 that he acquired his first tennis wheelchair. "I'm not an athlete," he said prior to taking up the game, but his results say otherwise. He won the 2012 championship in the "C" Division at the US Open, and his notable titles this year in "B" Division play include the Pensacola Open and the Jana Hunsaker Memorial among others, elevating his ranking to a national No. 1.

He says, "In 2012 I joined USTA and played 2.5 singles, and later that year, 6.0 mixed doubles. I joined an able-body group of players that played every day of the week in Gainesville. I was blessed to have a veteran chair player, Johnny Johnston, take me under his wing and teach me this game."

Competitive tennis has encouraged Stu to change his diet and work with a personal trainer. He has also become a local advocate, introducing tennis to three chair-bound UF college students, and putting racquets in the hands of his daughters, age 5 and 6. He says, "Ever since my coach ignited the fire under my chair, I can't wait to tell others about tennis."
CTA Volunteer of the Year

Michele Maharaj of Fernandina Beach
Motto: "Fitness, Fun and Fellowship"

maharaj_comm_tennis_volunteer_of_the_yearThis past spring, an adult USTA League team from Nassau County won the Florida Sectional and advanced to the USTA League National Championships. Quite an accomplishment on its own, but all the more amazing for small Nassau County, and almost unthinkable before the rise of adult and junior tennis in the area due to Michele Maharaj and the Yulee Tennis Foundation.

Michele and her husband Vishnu are co-directors of tennis for the foundation in Nassau County, and Michele is the Region 2 community tennis representative, focusing on growing both junior and adult tennis in the area. She currently voluntarily coordinates four adult local league teams, encouraging the transition to USTA League play for beginning players. Thanks to Michele and Vishnu, tennis programming was added to two local high schools, a county home-school program, and the first Jr. Team tennis league was established.

Besides growing participation, giving back to the community through tennis has been a constant theme for Michele over the years. Her food pantry support events collect roughly 1,500 lbs. of food per year for the less fortunate, in addition to "Tennis Thanks the Troops" events, and tournaments supporting cancer research. Michele cites a meeting with long-time USTA Florida volunteers Celia Rehm and Terri Florio at the 2006 USTA Florida Annual Meeting for their encouragement and guidance in increasing her program offerings and community events. Seven years later, it is Michele who can pass on a blueprint for community tennis success.

Outstanding Diversity Achievement Award

Gustavo Granitto of Weston
Motto: "Tennis is the art of foreseeing the unforeseen"

granatto_diversityPromoting tennis in the Hispanic community has been a strategic priority for USTA Florida in 2013, but it has been a personal priority in South Florida for many years for tennis coach and consultant Gustavo Granitto.

Gustavo has long championed the cause for diversity both on and off the tennis court, making the sport more inclusive in Florida, especially for children. In Broward County he promotes four or more free tennis play days, clinics and tournaments for kids each year, offering financial assistance and serving a diverse population of children from 10 or more different countries in his programs.

He is the founder of the Hispanic Coaches Workshops, held in Florida and California, and advises coaches on how to serve diverse populations while improving the business of tennis. His diverse high performance program sees more than 90 percent of kids receive full tennis scholarships. He has also developed a parent orientation program as a tool for parents to make better decisions for their children. He has been a member of the USTA Florida Diversity Sub-committee, the Coaches Commission, and the new USTA Florida Hispanic Outreach Initiative.

He says, "I've had the experience of working with more than 40 tennis federations around the world, and USTA Florida is a pioneer organization. A service organization of and for the Florida residents." Gustavo, in turn, has helped USTA Florida serve its diverse population.
USTA School Tennis Volunteers of the Year

Judi Winch, Daytona Beach
Motto: "Jump on Board the Train to Success at Westside!"

winch_schoolsSchool Principal Judi Winch sees beyond the walls of Westside Elementary, to the associations, businesses, and community partners in the Daytona Beach that can help make dreams come true for the children of Westside, 94 percent of who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.

The "Westside's Night Alive" after-school program she created promotes a safe and nurturing environment for educational activities, physical fitness, and the health and nutrition programs that are a focus at the school. This year with the help of various local and national partners, Judi added 10 and Under Tennis to her program mix, converting one of their full-size courts to four 36-foot courts to become the first school in Florida with permanent youth courts.

The kick-off event for the new courts featured appearances by local community and government dignitaries, in addition to former Grand Slam finalists MaliVai Washington and Todd Martin, who shared encouraging words with students.

Judi's plan to reinforce classroom application with the discipline of sports and other out-of-classroom activities was realized in 2012, when the school, predicted to receive an "F" state grade, received a "B." In 2013 it was one of only seven Volusia County schools at all levels to receive an "A."
USTA 10 and Under Tennis Teaching Award

Rita Dotson, Pensacola
Motto: "You never know what you are capable of until you try!"

dotson_10_and_underThis year alone, Rita Dotson has assisted at approximately 10 school assemblies, hosted 10 and Under Tennis Festivals, provided free instruction for children at public parks, assisted with Jr. Team Tennis kick-off events, and has initiated free tennis programs at elementary schools and community centers.

As president of Tennis-4-Everyone, a non-profit organization that provides free tennis instruction to underprivileged kids, she is used to being pointed out by children around Pensacola. She says, "It is a wonderful feeling to be recognized around town by children of all ages as 'The Tennis Lady.' It warms my heart to see young adults that I have taught as youngsters playing tennis and enjoying the game."

She coordinates schedules with various community centers in the Pensacola area, providing age-appropriate tennis equipment and quality instruction, with a goal to expose as many children as possible to tennis. She says, "The 10 and Under Tennis equipment has all but guaranteed success for our youth. Even the handful that come out with attitudes and have decided they do not like tennis because they don't want to fail, they give it a shot and like it."

The PTR and USPTA-certified pro has since 2001 developed relationships with tennis directors and staff at local community and tennis centers, along with the City of Pensacola, to spread the word of 10 and Under Tennis, and how easy it is for kids to get into the game.

USTA League Tennis Service Award

Sandy Teter, Miami
Motto or song: "Wind Beneath My Wings"

Teter_SandySandy Teter's passing this July was felt throughout the Miami women's league community. While she did not hold an "official" USTA volunteer position, she worked behind the scenes and in concert with local league coordinators to advocate, recruit, organize, and captain women's teams for more than 11 years.

After retiring from physical education teaching in 2002, Sandy poured herself into women's league tennis in Miami, becoming to many the "go-to" person for fostering tennis awareness, and recruiting and encouraging new players. She would captain up to 11 teams at a time, while playing at Miami's Alper Jewish Community Center on three teams in her trademark colorful outfits. One famous story goes that the day before going to the league championships in Daytona, her live-in boyfriend of 12 years asked her what was more important to her: tennis or him. "You don't want to ask me that question now," she said -- and he never asked again.

From 2002 to 2012 it is estimated she captained 53 teams, also serving as a board member for the South Florida Women's Doubles Tennis League, and maintaining a massive e-mail contact list of players to rally each season. Local league coordinator Donna Kass said, "We now have eight 2.5-level beginner teams eager to play, and I give Sandy's enthusiasm the credit for the popularity of the level. Many of her players have moved on up to 3.5, but all speak fondly of their 'Sandy years.'"





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