By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Each year a Community Tennis Development Workshop serves to both teach coaches, volunteers and organizers about the future and honor the recent past - and with the latter in mind, the annual CTDW Awards Gala dedicates the Saturday evening dinner hours to acknowledge the exemplary men and women who fuel tennis at the community level.
Hosted by ESPN's Chris McKendry, a lifelong tennis player and former NJTL member, the 2011 ceremony provided an evening filled will poignant stories and impassioned moments. For many recipients, like Eve Kraft Community Service Award winner Bob Bratcher of Wilmington, Del., the award captures decades of hard work to enhance programming. Bratcher lives almost every day on the courts, teaching, coaching and mentoring youth players in an underserved community.
"I have loved and respected this game from my early twenties and here I am now, entering my late seventies," said Bratcher to the audience. "They day I stop being a part of this is the day they carry me out in a box, throw me in the ground and pour dirt on me."
To receive top honors signifies that lives are transformed on a daily basis based upon their methods of teaching tennis. A few would cry at the podium, but there was no sadness inside a ballroom packed with hundreds of CTDW attendees.
Perhaps the most powerful visual came when Brenda Gilmore - another Eve Kraft recipient - made her way to the stage as the masses stood, offering applause. Once a nationally-ranked player, Gilmore has been guiding inner-city kids at the Prince George's Tennis & Education Foundation from a wheelchair since its launch in 1993.
"I didn't want to come up her with anything written down - I wanted you to hear the words from my heart," said Gilmore. From the stage, she looked to a table filled with smiling faces to her right-hand side, and mentioned each one by name.
"Thanks go to my kids - four of my 24-year-olds teaching at the foundation today are graduates of our system. They have gone on to college and come back full circle to volunteer," Gilmore added.
Among the recipients of the "NJTL of the Year Awards" were three National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) providers:
- Racquet and Literacy League for Youth (R.A.L.L.Y.), operating out of Hartford, Conn. with an annual budget of less than a $50,000.
- St. Paul Urban Tennis, St. Paul, Minn., with an annual budget between $50,000 and $500,000.
- New York Junior Tennis League, New York, N.Y., with an annual budget exceeding $500,000.
The Community Tennis Association (CTA) of the Year Award, honoring a registered CTA for outstanding services rendered, went to the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation based out of Washington D.C.
Julie Watson Dick of Georgetown, Ky. received the Janet Louer USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Organizer of the Year Award, which honors an individual who has positively influenced children's lives and substantially impacts their community.
Coach Jim Holt accepted the Adaptive Tennis Community Service award on behalf of his own "Touch of Tennis" program based in Gwynedd Valley, Pa. The award recognizes a program or program leader that demonstrates continued excellence, dedication and service in tennis for special populations.
The aforementioned Bob Bratcher and Brenda Gilmore both received the Eve Kraft Community Service Award, bestowed upon individuals each year who embody the selfless mission to bring tennis to anyone who wants to play.