The USTA supports a large variety of youth and community programs nationwide, and it’s becoming increasingly common to find many of the best young players participating in several of them. One group playing in the USTA Jr. Team Tennis 14 & Under National Championships at Cayce Tennis & Fitness Center in Cayce, S.C., is the New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL), based in Queens, N.Y.
The nine players representing the USTA Eastern section are also all a part of the NYJTL’s Advanced Training Program, the National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapter’s highest level of youth competition. They were selected from the organization’s tournament team to participate in Jr. Team Tennis. Each and every player also participates in USTA Junior Tournaments.
“They all play competitively as individuals but they like the team atmosphere because they make friends, grow together and learn from each other, which is very important,” said NYJTL coach Elena Bantovska. “It’s also a big deal for them to play doubles and mixed doubles. That really psyches them up; they don’t get to do that anywhere else but Jr. Team Tennis.”
As impressive as the players are stretching for returns and firing serves on-court during this championship weekend, their active participation in community events year-round about New York City is what makes them people – as well as players – to watch. Many volunteer for NYJTL programs, such as the chapter’s Special Populations Carnival – quarterly tennis carnivals hosted for special needs children in District 75.
“They volunteer,” said team co-captain Ron Nano. “We do a lot of other community and after-school programs. Advanced training is really just a really tiny piece of the overall programming of NYJTL.”
These nine players are part of a substantially larger group; in 2012, NYJTL serviced more than 75,000 children, according to Bantovska. They start out as beginners with 10 and Under Tennis. As kids advance through the organization, they can be selected for the Advanced Training Program.
“Kids reach a certain level of play and we select on potential as young as 7 or 8 years old. We get them into this specific program where we offer more conditioning and provide a little more personal training,” said Bantovska.
In addition to representing USTA Eastern at Nationals, NYJTL has also developed players who have advanced to the US Open Qualifying Tournament in recent years. Still others have gone on to enjoy successful Division I college careers, while many have simply become successful students who love tennis.
“That is one of our main goals, to get them to college and hopefully help them earn an athletic scholarship along the way,” said Nano. “We are proud to say every single senior, over the past seven years, has graduated and gone on to college.”
NYJTL is one of thousands of NJTL community tennis organizations seeking to develop the character of young people through tennis and education around the country. Founded in 1969 by Arthur Ashe, NJTLs are unique because they offer a variety of on-court programming and also educational and life-skill components designed to enhance a player’s overall development.