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Llwanga Lwanga Named November Tennis Volunteer of the Month

May 25, 2008 12:04 PM

November Tennis Volunteer of the Month
Llwanga Lwanga of Seattle, Washington

Llwanga Lwanga co-founded a tennis association to increase tennis in the Seattle African-American community.

How do you learn to play tennis when you don't have tennis equipment? You make a racquet out of firewood, tennis balls out of banana tree fiber and rubber plant sap, and a net from sisal strands. That's how Llwanga Lwanga of Seattle, originally from Uganda, started his extraordinary journey in tennis.

As a child living in Uganda, Llwanga first saw the game of tennis being played at a private, all-white tennis club. He and some friends approached the court to watch, but were soon chased away by the players, who feared Llwanga and his friends might steal one of their tennis balls. Undeterred, Llwanga returned the next day, only to be chased away again.

Fascinated by the game, Llwanga decided to make his own equipment and learn the sport with his friends. He fashioned paddle-like racquets out of firewood and tennis balls from banana tree fiber and rubber tree sap. Then he wove a rope-like net from strands of sisal and banana plants. And he taught himself to play.

As an adult, Llwanga moved to Seattle, where he made it his mission to bring tennis to African-Americans in Seattle’s Central District and Rainier Valley. In 1969, Llwanga teamed with Joyce Trader, originally from Jamaica, to form the Central Area Tennis Association (CATA), a group that organized play for African-Americans at public courts around the city.

At about the same time, Llwanga began a 25-year stint in coaching junior high and high school tennis teams. Llwanga’s four children picked up their father’s love of tennis, and his only daughter Anna played number one singles on her high school team.

Llwanga has played USA League Tennis for many years, and he’s participated in many local tournaments in singles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles. In 1999, he won the men’s 65 singles title at the Pacific Coast Championships, the regional American Tennis Association tournament in Portland, Oregon.

Llwanga has also been a key member, currently serving as vice president, of the Emerald City Tennis Association (ECTA), a group formed in 1989 to promote competition and camaraderie among African-American and other multicultural tennis enthusiasts in the Seattle area. Llwanga describes the goal of ECTA as "to grow the next generation of tennis players."

ECTA partners with the Amy Yee Tennis Center to provide tennis instruction through free after-school clinics for over 75 elementary and high school students in the Seattle area. In addition to on-court instruction, Llwanga provides free math tutoring to students at any level. In 2002, the USTA/Pacific Northwest section selected Llwanga for the Multicultural Participation Outstanding Volunteer Service Award for his long-time service to the local tennis community through ECTA.

Llwanga’s dedication to community brought him back to Uganda in 1994, when he returned to his home village to build Lwa-Kisa, a school for 300 children ages five to 15. Llwanga plans to return permanently to Uganda, to teach in the school that he built and to introduce students to tennis. He hopes to build two clay courts. No one will chase the children away from the courts, and they won’t have to make their own racquets, balls, or net.

Christine Chan Samuel of the USTA/Pacific Northwest section staff, said, "Llwanga shares his passion for the game with everyone he meets. I consider him an ‘all-world’ volunteer, as he is now in Uganda helping with their tennis programs. I met with him just before his trip, and he proudly showed me a ball made from banana fiber and sisal plants. It brought tears to my eyes."

Do you know someone who would make a good Tennis Volunteer of the Month? Email Andrew Feldman with a short description of how your volunteer helps promote and develop the game of tennis. If you have a picture, send it along.

Go to Volunteer of the Month page

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