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St. John's Lester Named USTA Florida November Volunteer of the Month

November 1, 2011 02:26 PM
heather lesterUSTA Florida November 2011 Volunteer of the Month Heather Lester is doing the tennis equivalent of "printing money" at the St. Johns Tennis Academy. But instead of printing money, she's printing tennis players -- dozens and dozens of tennis players finding success in the area Jr. Team Tennis league, and now reaching as far as the USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships.

Players from the St. Johns Tennis Academy at Mills Field in St. Johns County, Fla., just south of Jacksonville, made up 25% of the total population of Jr. Team Tennis (JTT) players in the Jacksonville area, which itself is consistently the No. 1 or No. 2 JTT league in the state of Florida annually in terms of population.

"The energetic group of teaching professionals at Mills Field entered eight teams into Jacksonville's summer JTT program," said Diana Gardner, the Jacksonville JTT local league coordinator. "One Under-10 team, one Under-12 Intermediate, one Under-14 Beginner, one Under-14 Intermediate, two Under-18 Intermediate, and two Under-18 Advanced teams for a total of 55 players. They have also established a good group of parent captains to manage the JTT teams."

A volunteer Jr. Team Tennis captain for three years now, Lester is starting to see success from the numbers competing at the St. Johns Tennis Academy, where she acts as director of tennis. This summer at the USTA Florida Section Jr. Team Tennis Championships at the Florida Tennis Center in Daytona Beach, three of her teams reached division finals, with one advancing to the national championships in Arizona.

"We entered our 12-Under Intermediate team which came in 2nd place, and two of our 18-Under Advanced teams which placed first and second," Lester said. "Our first place team '904' from the St. Johns Tennis Academy flew to Arizona in October to compete in the USTA national competition. Overall our academy had 55 kids playing Jr. Team Tennis, some for the first time. We had nine teams composed of those 55 fantastic tennis players ranging from our 10-Under QuickStart team to our 18-Under Intermediate and Advanced teams. That's a lot of tennis!"

The 55 junior players are among more than 100 students taking lessons at St. Johns Tennis Academy, ranging from 8-and-under classes to 18-advanced players.

"We start at ages 7 through 18, and also have two adult-beginner classes and one intermediate-adult class that meet in the evenings," Lester says. "We have four hardcourts and get very creative with our scheduling to handle this amount of clients. We have waiting lists of students for our QuickStart, beginner teen and teen academy because we keep our prices low and we have stellar teaching professionals that are most passionate about the kids and a love for the game of tennis."

After a second year of advancing Jr. Team Tennis squads to USTA Nationals (one finishing 2nd this year, and one in 2nd place two years ago), Lester says the benefits show not so much with trophies and state titles, but with the added confidence her players gain.

"Jr. Team Tennis is such a great stepping stool for kids to gain the confidence of playing a match by themselves in both singles and doubles," Lester says. "It makes them think more about strategy then technical stroke production and gives them challenges to succeed and win points, which all kids love. It's not about winning or losing but about trying to gain as many points as possible to contribute to your team. Jr. Team Tennis keeps my teens challenged and fresh in playing matches to be ready for high school tennis in the off season. Every student that came from our academy last fall that tried out for a high school tennis team made try outs."

In addition she also volunteered on-court at USTA Florida's July 2.5-level F.L. (Fun League) Blast, and sent adult beginner players from Mills Field to both 2.5 Play Days in the Jacksonville area. USTA Florida congratulates Heather Lester as the November 2011 Volunteer of the Month for growing junior tennis in the St. Johns/Jacksonville area and her dedication to adult and junior players.


Birthplace: Charlotte, North Carolina
Family Members: husband Tom, son Brian and daughter Rachel
Favorite Movie: Gorillas In The Mist
Favorite Food: Italian cuisine
Favorite Travel: Definitely New York City but I really want to go to Rome, Italy and then that will be my new favorite!
Favorite Tennis Shot: I cannot pick one are you kidding me? OK. I'll narrow it down to two; the dropshot and the overhead smash baby!

My earliest tennis memory was..."hitting on the wall for hours when I was 11 years old."

If I could play tennis with three people, they would be..."Steffi Graf, Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters. Steffi and I would dominate!"

When I am not playing tennis I am..."surfing at the beach with my kids."

Best ever tennis memory..."is when Stan Smith came to visit us at a summer tennis camp in Lakeland, Florida when I was 12 and I had my shoes signed by him and got to watch him play live."

I like to volunteer in tennis because..."I am able to share my passion and experiences in tennis with the kids and watch them get excited about playing the game, walking off the court happy to compete whether they win or lose."






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