2022 USTA Eastern Scholarship Award Recipients
Two USTA Eastern juniors—Sara Contreras, of Brooklyn N.Y., and Tirzah Spivey, of Clifton Park, N.Y.—were recently named recipients of the USTA Foundation’s Donald Lawson Tisdel Scholarship. The $10,000 scholarship—named for passionate tennis player and former USTA board member Don Tisdel—is granted annually to high school seniors who participate in an organized tennis program like a National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) organization and who have excelled academically while demonstrating community service. Contreras, who played tennis through NYC’s Highland Park Tennis Association, and Spivey, from Albany’s 15-Love NJTL organization, are two of just 21 students nationwide to receive the award. We talked to Contreras and Spivey—who will attend Liberty University and Russell Sage College, respectively—about their exemplary academic pursuits, their commitment to service and what they love about the game.
Congratulations on receiving the Donald Tisdel Scholarship! A core requirement for recipients of this award is that they demonstrate a commitment and willingness to serve their community. What are some examples of your community service efforts over the years?
CONTRERAS: From a very young age I have always been involved in my church: singing, helping out with events, playing with the young children after services. I also teach English to orphans and underprivileged children in Latin America so that they can have better opportunities for their future.
SPIVEY: I have volunteered at my local city mission since I was six years old, and I’ve also been volunteering at my church for the last five years as a musician. I also teach kids tennis and STEM skills at local elementary schools.
Why is serving your community important to you?
CONTRERAS: Community service is one of the best ways to unite under a common cause. When I pour into my community, I am rewarded with the fulfillment that only comes when you put yourself to the side to spread love to someone else.
SPIVEY: 15-LOVE has instilled that desire in me to give back to my community. I grew [being a student in] the organization, and now I’m teaching. Tennis has had such a positive impact on my life. I am thrilled that I can give back to my community just as my instructors did for me.
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment in high school? Why does that achievement make you proud?
CONTRERAS: Graduating at 16 with a semester’s worth of college credits was a desire that I was unsure would come to pass. However, I was able to take four college-level classes while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. It wasn’t easy, and it took loads of determination.
SPIVEY: My biggest accomplishment is winning the Patriot of the Year award at my high school. The award goes to individuals who have demonstrated excellent sportsmanship and who also perform well academically.
What are your personal goals for college? Do you have an idea of what discipline you’d like to pursue?
CONTRERAS: I see college as a launchpad for a medical career. My goal is not only to obtain good grades but also to take advantage of the wealth of information and resources that [higher learning] provides.
SPIVEY: Some of my personal goals for college are to maintain a good grade point average while competing as a student athlete. I am majoring in biology with a minor in psychology on the premedical track.
Tennis is obviously a huge part of your lives. When did you first start playing? What do you love about the sport?
CONTRERAS: I first picked up a racquet when I was seven years old and I haven’t left the sport since. I love that in tennis everyone is always learning—whether you are a newbie or pro player. There is always some technique to refine, form to finesse, and strategy to perfect. Life is the same way. No matter what, we are always growing and cultivating better habits so that we can be a greater blessing to those around us.
SPIVEY: I have been involved in tennis for as long as I can remember. I must have been about three or four when I first started playing. It's really taught me the value of perseverance and how to demonstrate great sportmanship. I also love that it’s a sport that really brings people together. People of all ages can play and enjoy the game—I see families playing together all the time and that’s really great.
Who is your favorite professional player?
CONTRERAS: Roger Federer. He is a common favorite with good reason. What impresses me most about him is how he has visibly demonstrated his mental improvement as a professional tennis player. While today he is well-known for his calmness, classiness and good sportsmanship, in his earlier days he dealt with bursts of anger and struggled to control his emotions. This shows me that I can and should always strive for improvement throughout my tennis game and in life.
SPIVEY: Bianca Andreescu. I’ve been watching tennis since I was little, so I grew up watching all the greats, but I love the new generation of tennis players coming in. I love the fight she has in her and the fact that her playing style is so diverse. When she defeated Serena Williams to win the 2019 US Open, I became a big fan.
Photos courtesy Sara Contreras and Tirzah Spivey