A quick scroll through your Twitter feed will likely bring the same disappointing, heartbreaking news – college tennis programs are being cut. Gabriella Hesse, a Tennis For America fellow at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC), wants to see less negativity and more success stories. 

“Unfortunately, it is all too common to see negativity and anger shared around different issues online, and often it doesn’t lead to constructive change,” Hesse suggested. “Modeling success is a tried and true method for achieving it yourself, so by sharing what works it gives other programs a blueprint to follow.”

The former Florida Southern College tennis player points to examples she has seen on Twitter as to how programs can strengthen themselves along with the sport. One being First Break Tennis Academy in Carson, California. They partner with local college tennis programs to connect tennis with the next generation.

Hesse with Florida Southern teammates volunteering at SnowFest in Lakeland, FL.

Hesse believes college programs should look for volunteer opportunities. Volunteering helps athletes connect and intertwine with their college’s local community, provides visibility for the program, and instills a favorable impression of the program – all of which makes the program invaluable to their college and community.

Strengthening tennis is something that we can all be a part of, says Hesse. Whether it is donating tennis balls, volunteering to teach lessons to local youth, or attending local matches – there are existing avenues that help bolster the sport.

“Every level of the sport – from juniors to college to adult to professional and everything in between – is essential for tennis to survive,” Hesse said. “But we should be looking past survival, and at how American tennis is going to thrive again on a worldwide stage. And that begins with grassroots community programs that introduce the sport to those who have never played, especially kids. By casting our net wider, we are encompassing those who may have a natural knack for the sport but never had access to the expensive equipment or lesson and court fees. Identifying and supporting these players is how American tennis will survive, and in the future thrive.”

The JTCC is committed to introducing the underserved communities in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area to tennis. On Monday, Hesse began her year of service at the JTCC alongside fellow Tennis For America VISTA Ava Todd. 

The JTCC was founded in 1999 with the mission of growing the game of tennis and creating a lifelong sport for those who participate. The nonprofit provides a training program for advanced individuals to develop their game. The Champions program has successfully placed graduates in Division I programs, Division III programs, at Ivy League schools, or in professional tennis.

After playing collegiate tennis at Davidson College, Todd worked with AmeriCorps in their College Advising Corps. She helped high school students in a largely rural and low income area think about their post-secondary options. In addition to advising parents and students on financial aid and college application processes, Todd partnered with local nonprofits to organize with low-cost overnight college visits for the students.

Todd competing during her time at Davidson College.

Upon learning about Tennis For America, Todd realized the program would allow her to combine her love for non-profit work with her passion for tennis.

Todd hopes to continue to strengthen the relationship between the University of Maryland tennis program and the JTCC. Todd believes building relationships with the Terps will allow kids a glimpse into what their future could be with tennis.

Bringing tennis to the underserved communities will help not only the sport, but also the residents.

“Traditionally, tennis has been most accessible to the wealthy,” Todd said. “The cost of equipment, private lessons and tournament play is prohibitive for many people, so they never get a chance to try the sport and potentially develop a love for it. Tennis for America and the facilities in which it operates are working to change this narrative because everyone deserves the chance to play tennis. Not only is it a lifetime sport that can provide fun and physical wellbeing, but it can also provide educational and financial opportunities. Everyone should have access to tennis and all of these benefits that it can provide, and expanding tennis in underserved communities helps move us toward such equity.”

Hesse and Todd look forward to coming alongside the JTCC to make a positive impact on the lives of Maryland children. Tennis was transformative in their lives and they hope that it will be the same in the lives of the kids they meet.

“Hopefully, ten years down the road, we will see some of the kids we have worked with starting their college tennis careers, starting their professional tennis careers, or using the life skills that tennis taught them to pursue another passion,” Todd said.

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  1. The Florida Southern College family is very proud of Gabby Hesse for all she has accomplished and for all the things she will accomplish going forward! JTCC is lucky to have her – go Gabby and Go Mocs!


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