Moderated by Host and Journalist Nick McCarvel, Panelists – Ashley Massengale, USTA Southern Section Board Member and USTA League National Committee Member and Former USTA Georgia President and USTA Atlanta; Dave Killian, Gay Games Board Member and USTA Pro Circuit National Committee Member; Jean Telfort, a local organizer in the New York area and founder of the community tennis association Tennis Family Group (CTA); Matt Olson, the current executive director of the USTA New England section and formerly in the same role at USTA Atlanta; and Melissa Romig, the founder of “Novice Night” at Sets in the City Dallas, a CTA aimed at lesbian and queer women but open to all players – spoke openly to a virtual crowd of over 60 attendees.
The five panelists spoke about how they ended up in tennis – from Telfort, who grew up in Haiti and played the sport during her active service in the U.S. Army, to Massengale, a competitive and collegiate junior player at Yale before burnout doesn’t get her out of the game until she reaches adulthood – and how they’re now diffusing it to others. After embarking on a legal career, for example, Massengale returned to the sport as a volunteer and quickly took a more active role in committees and leadership, which included a passion for the game of the league. USTA.
“I think the first thing I try to do is be active in all communities, including the gay community in Atlanta and the gay tennis community,” she said. “I try to be a representative of the community wherever I go and to be involved in a genuine way.
“I don’t think there are a lot of openly gay volunteers, at least in the southern section of USTA, so it’s important for me to be open, to talk about my wife and my son and that everything the world sees that this is normal, whether they know it before they meet me before or not. “
Killian, a varsity player at the Philadelphia University of Science, was a long-time volunteer at various pro tournaments in his area, including the famous WTA Tour stop in Charleston, SC, and used that experience to attract his attention locally by participating in the USTA’s Diversity Immersion for Volunteer Engagement (DIVE) program, which seeks to recruit and engage volunteers and future volunteer leaders from more diverse backgrounds at all levels of the organization .
“The goal, for me, in any organization I’m involved with is inclusion,” Killian said. “It can’t just be lip service and it has to start from the top. I try to instill that in all the organizations I belong to.”
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In their various roles in grassroots tennis, from community tennis associations to more organized USTA sanctions organizations, to competitive events and tournaments on the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA) World Tour, the group highlighted the importance of making the game accessible to all ages, ability levels and backgrounds. It was this mindset that led Romig, who was not a tennis player until middle age at his wife’s behest, to create a new social opportunity at Sets and the City, a local CTA. Long established in the Dallas area for queer women who are completely new to the game.
“We have noticed that there is a very specific niche in lesbian beginner tennis… We play doubles points for a solid 90 minutes. We don’t do drills or anything, we hit and hit and hit. , and let’s spin, spin and spin, ”Romig said. “When you were brand new to the sport, this is what you were looking for: those touches of the ball. For many players, tennis is just part of it. Tennis is a healthy and active way to meet. . friends in our community. They have fun, and it’s a very collegial and family process.
Telfort, who brings the game to youth and adults in communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, expressed similar sentiments: “It’s new to see a tennis racket for the first time. .. and there is a desire to do so. something different. In these communities where I go, [they play] a lot of basketball, but an athlete is an athlete. For example, I had a gentleman in the Bronx who is a boxer … there are people out there who understand the nuances of sport, and everyone feels like there is something to it. to win. Making things fun and mutually beneficial for the people involved was key to what I did. “
With tennis participation across the country over the past year or so thanks to its status as the ideal sport of social distancing, the entire panel agreed that local organizers will play a crucial role, both now and in the future. future, not only to maintain momentum. goes, but to continue to open doors for others.
“I really think it’s all about open communication and developing partnerships within the community. That’s what everyone here is really talking about. It’s so exciting to see and that’s the way it should be. happen naturally, ”Olson said.
“We want people to see themselves in us… One of the great things that is really happening is seeing the change in tennis. When I started out I was petrified that people would find out I was gay. Tennis is a part of your life as a job, as a game, as a circle of friends and the idea that you could have lost your job because you were gay was terrifying.
“Partnering with areas like parks and recreation, colleges, making people know as an organization that we are open and inclusive… I really believe that should encompass everything we do. “