The 2013 Pancho Gonzalez Scholar Athlete grant winners are Xavier Gonzalez of Houston and Jessica Perez of Laguna Niguel, Calif. Here are their winning essays:
By Dylan King
Althea Gibson was an extremely talented woman who played multiple sports at a high level. She was not only a star athlete but a leader among her peers. She was an athlete of color during the 1940s and '50s, so she faced many different obstacles on her way to fame. Because she was one of the first minorities to dominate in a primarily white sport, she is certainly someone that I look up to.
Like Althea, I played multiple sports growing up. Besides tennis, I have played on over 20 soccer, basketball and baseball teams. In all three sports, I was often one of the better players on the team. My coaches noticed this, and before every season, I would have someone tell me that I would be the role model that everyone would look up to. I enjoyed this role and made sure that I always paid attention to the coaches so my teammates would, as well. I quickly noticed that the more the team listened, the better we played.
In the spring of my 7th grade year, I faced one of my toughest challenges as a teammate. It was baseball season, and I had been selected as the No. 2 overall pick in our Little League draft. Arriving at the first practice, I knew immediately that it was going to be a long season. Everyone was messing around, and the team seemed to be filled with kids who made goofing off a priority. A majority of the kids were younger than me, and I had no close friends on the team. It would have been easy to just quit the team, but I was determined to try to turn us into a hard-working squad. I kept my head held high all season and tried to be a positive influence on my teammates. Despite my best efforts, we finished the season with a 2-14 record and lost our last 12 games. My coach noticed my efforts to help the team out and praised me for it. At our end-of-year party, he gave a speech about how I helped the team grow and develop as players and as citizens. He also nominated me for the league sportsmanship award. It felt really good to know that someone had noticed what I was trying to do, and it made me feel like all of my work had paid off.
In basketball, I was once one of the best players on a highly competitive team. During middle school, elite players from other teams transfered to our team, and my playing time decreased. By my 8th grade year, I found myself to be riding the bench for the majority of our games. Although it stunk to not be out there on the court, I was happy to cheer my teammates on with a positive attitude. I was one of the few players that showed up to nearly every practice, and my coach always praised me for my work ethic. During one of our tournaments, we were in the finals against one of our toughest rivals. We won the game handily, and even though I didn't play very much, I felt just as happy as our top scorers did. I knew that I could contribute both on the court as a player or on the bench as a motivator.
Tennis is mainly an independent sport, but once a year, I am selected as one of 12 boys to represent the Pacific Northwest in a team event for my age group. It is one of my favorite tennis events because of the team aspect and because I get to play friends from other sections. At Zonals, you are required to play one mixed doubles match with someone on your team. One year, I was paired with a very inexperienced girl to play doubles against a strong Southern California team. In her previous five singles matches, she had only won a single game. We were getting destroyed in the doubles match, and after every miss, she would put her head down and get even more depressed. I felt awful for her, so I tried to make her feel as good as possible by cracking jokes on the court and directing her attention away from the match. My opponent's coach noticed what I was trying to do, and after the match, he complimented me and told me that he was going to nominate me for the Zonals sportsmanship award. Although I didn't win the award that year, I felt happy that I had lifted the spirits of my doubles partner.
Like Althea, I pride myself in being a positive role model for others. Playing sports has taught me that it takes leadership as well as athleticism to succeed. I hope to carry on Althea's legacy so that someday I can be a leader for millions of kids, just like she was.
By Kimberly Yee
As a junior tennis player, you sometimes feel alone and disliked. Thanks to my parents and the NJTL foundation I am part of, I learned to overcome my insecurities by first realizing that everyone is scared like I am.
Second, I stopped worrying about what others think. Instead, I work really hard and give it my best. I try and reach out to other players and treat them with a good attitude. I have since learned that everyone struggles with these feelings. I can use them as an excuse to quit and get down, or I can overcome the negative to be a positive person, like Althea did.
Althea Gibson had it hard. People were far worse then. At least I can play tournaments, and the USTA is here to help me!
My father left his job many years ago to dedicate the time to teach me, leaving only my mother’s salary for our family of five. My mother works the grave-yard shift six days a week to help me with my tennis. She can’t fly to see her mom who does not have long to live because we used all our money for my tennis.
Like Althea, I and everyone has challenges. My goal is to work hard, study hard and to one day use my talents to help children like the USTA has helped me. Right now, I volunteer four days a week teaching tennis and mentoring younger children. I literally miss them when I do not see them.
Tennis has done so much for my life, I feel bad even asking for money. But to travel and play, we need help. My parents and the help I get from a local foundation do not come close to covering my tennis costs. I know there are a lot of players like me because I play with children who do not have much every day. If you can help me, I promise I will appreciate every penny. I will work hard, and I will give back, just like Althea.