By Christine Staudinger Ezra, USTA.com
|By Christine Staudinger Ezra |
|If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else for an upcoming "Player Spotlight" column, e-mail us at WebResponse@USTA.com. Please include the nominee's name, age, state, contact information (e-mail and phone number) and a brief paragraph on why you think they deserve to be featured. Please note: We can only respond to those whom we decide to include in the column. |
17; junior in high schoolResidence:
Tulsa, OK Tribe:
Choctaw Nation Sibling:
Kyle, 15 years oldPets:
Three dogs: Zoe, a yellow Labrador; Moose, a chocolate lab mix; and a mutt he found on the street four months ago. Hobbies:
“Really, tennis takes up most of my time.” Favorite Movie: Dumb and Dumber
Can’t Get Enough of:
Asian foodFavorite School Subject:
“I’m hoping that if I give the kids living on reservations something else to do, it could help their health.”
I normally wouldn’t feature two teenagers back-to-back, but once I heard about Trent Tolbert, I had to make an exception. Like Matthew Levine
, our previous Player Spotlight
feature, Trent is also a young adult trying to make his mark on the world through tennis.
While Trent Tolbert has grown up in an American household, he is of Native American descent. After living a non-reservation life for the last 17 years, he is now ready to look to his cultural origins, curious to find out more about where he came from and how he can help to build a better future for Native Americans less fortunate than himself.
The Kid Next Door
Trent could be your brother, your son, your best friend. A 17-year-old, from Tulsa, Okla., he attends Cascia Hall Preparatory, where he maintains a 3.45 GPA. An all-honors student, he challenges his mind by taking AP courses, prepping himself for the college courses he will take in a few years.
His mind also gets a workout on the tennis courts. He began taking lessons in fifth grade at Tulsa University where they often held clinics. “I picked it up at first because my cousin played, but then I really started falling in love with it,” Trent said. “When you play tennis, nothing’s ever the same. The ball never ends up on the other side of the net the same way twice.”
These days, when Trent’s not at school, he’s on a court. He scored a spot on his school’s varsity team as a freshman and has already seen his team win two state championships. He’s confident they’ll be back again this year, as well. “We’re definitely a power in Oklahoma,” he said. While he didn’t play in the tournament, he’s hopeful that he’ll make it as a doubles player this year, which he prefers over singles. “There’s more strategy involved in doubles, and it’s a much faster pace.”
Twice a week, Trent cuts out of practice early and rushes over to The Grand Health & Racquet Club – where he also spends much of his weekends – for drills and lessons. He works with pro Eddie Paez, an instructor Trent truly admires. “I see that tennis has really helped him out a lot,” Trent said. “He goes to Oregon University, and he’s been able to do that because of tennis. It helped him get out of Guatemala, where he’s from.”
Eddie is proof that tennis can open doors, a fact that hasn’t been overlooked by his young teenage prodigy. While Trent doesn’t necessarily need tennis to help him into a college – he is mainly considering small Division 3 liberal arts colleges, where he wishes to pursue a business major – he is aware that there are many people in the world who could benefit greatly from tennis.
Kenny Tolbert, Trent’s father, is also conscious of the power of his son’s young mind and all the ways it could help people not born into such promising circumstances. Perhaps that is why, now that Trent is on his way to becoming an adult, he has encouraged his son to learn more about his heritage, and use his capable mind and athletic abilities to forge a new path for Native Americans.
A member of the Choctaw Nation, Trent recently attended his first tribal meeting at a convention center in Tulsa. He watched as assistant chief Mike Bailey gave a Power Point presentation outlining what the tribe has achieved over the last year and their plans for the future.
|Did You Know? |
|• There are about 300 Indian reservations in the U.S., and 500 recognized tribes. |
• Twelve reservations are larger than the state of Rhode Island.
• The majority of Native Americans live somewhere other than the reservations, in cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles.
• Some reservations offer a quality of life that is among the poorest anywhere in the U.S.
|Source: Wikipedia |
He went in an effort to connect with his Native American culture and learn more about his tribe. He also went to meet Mike Bailey and hopefully garner support from the Choctaw Nation to offer more tennis youth programs and camps, as they do for other sports.
Trent has good reasons for wanting to see tennis grow among Native Americans, especially among the children born on reservations. It’s a matter of statistics, really.
Native American youths are in trouble. According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), alcohol and substance abuse are the most significant health problems affecting American Indians, alcohol killing Native Americans at an astonishing 517 percent higher rate than other Americans. The IHS estimates that 95 percent of American Indians are either directly or indirectly affected by alcohol abuse.
Native American children are also up against diabetes, truancy from the schools, tobacco use, teenage pregnancy and, maybe the biggest problem of all, suicide. Over the last 20 years, suicide has been the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, which is 2.5 times the national rate for all youth suicides.
“I’m not dealing with any of these issues, but it’s unfair for the kids that are. It’s just unlucky, and I feel very fortunate to help those people,” Trent said.
While not directly affected by these problems, Trent does live with an awareness of the misconceptions surrounding Native Americans. “A lot of it is the drunk Indian thing. Also, people think that all the money made in the casinos goes into the tribe’s pocketbook, when a lot of that money is actually distributed to the members of the nation, charities and the community to help develop the reservations,” he said
While Trent feels like he cannot change people’s perceptions about such issues, that hasn’t kept him from wanting to help the people caught in the midst of the very real problems threatening their existence.
Learning From the Best
Last year, while competing in the Native American Championships in Sunnyvale, Calif., Trent met David Dantzer, a man who has a lot to teach Trent and the rest of us.
Over 10 years ago, David was a teaching pro at a country club and the vice president of the USPTA of Southern, Calif., which required him to make long drives from his home in Santa Maria to Los Angeles. It was on one of those trips that David expressed to his wife that he felt like a babysitter and a bit unfulfilled. The parents would drop their kids off at the club and pick them up later. But something was missing.
“My wife made the suggestion that I should see if anyone was teaching Native Americans tennis because I knew a lot about their culture. I checked all through the U.S. and found out there were no active programs specifically to teach Native Americans tennis,” he said.
So David, a non-Native American, resolved to start a program. Ten years ago, he founded Standing Tall Tennis, an organization that aims to teach and promote tennis on Indian reservations throughout the U.S. to the youth and their families.
|POTW: Trent Tolbert|
He started out close to home, teaching the Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and held his first outreach clinic in 1996 in Mission, S.D., on the Rosebud Reservation for the Lakota People. “I spent more and more time each summer on the road. Last summer, my ninth doing this, I spent nine weeks and 8,000 miles throughout the western U.S. in Indian country,” he said.
All his experiences have taught him many valuable things, knowledge he is now trying to pass to others. In fact, he teaches workshops through the USTA on how to teach Native Americans tennis, pinpointing their different learning requirements and values.
“What they’re concerned about is what’s good for the whole,” David explained. “There’s an Indian saying that the village raises the child. This is why it’s so important to encourage the parents to help out with the workshops and clinics. Native Americans like to blend in with the group, so every effort they make, they ask what’s good for the group rather than what’s good for themselves. It’s a whole different way of approaching things.”
David has introduced tennis to over 5,000 American Indian kids and visited close to 30 reservations throughout the western U.S. Before starting any clinic on a reservation, he first gives teenagers or adults in the area the training they need to run a six-part program, ensuring the kids can continue to play tennis after he’s left. David will often revisit a reservation to see how they're progressing and if they need additional help.
At this point, his biggest obstacle is the growing pains that have stemmed from his success. “We’re getting more requests to teach on reservations than we can possibly handle,” he said.
The day he met Trent, David was holding a clinic at the Native American Championship, the same tournament Trent will compete in this year in attempts to be the only three-time 18-and-under champ. “Trent helped me run my clinic there. His tennis skills were already at a point where he had the ability to step in and do that,” David said. “Then his father expressed an interest in having him join me on the road this summer, as I have individuals join me for a week or two from time to time, to experience what life is like on the reservations.”
Trent was immediately receptive to the idea, and stated, “If I had met David earlier, I would have gotten involved earlier.”
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