ORGANIZER OF THE MONTH
USTA Eastern | May 24, 2018
Each month, USTA Eastern selects one passionate advocate who has made unique contributions within the community through tennis. We celebrate and honor Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month by featuring this Japanese-American volunteer whose boundless compassion, love of the game and commitment to making tennis accessible for all has given thousands of New York City children an opportunity to enjoy the fun and comradery of tennis.
Tennis Organizer of the Month: May 2018
Ten years ago, after becoming a member at the Knickerbocker Field Club, Joan Akpan (who is known endearingly as “Joani” by most) began volunteering at the Club’s free junior program for neighborhood children who live in the Prospect Park South area of Brooklyn. The summer program continues to be strong and the Knick even offers a scholarship program for a select few during the indoor season.ADVERTISEMENT
“We are lucky to have an amazing group of members at the Knick who volunteer their time and help support our program through their generous donations,” said Joan Akpan, a Brooklyn resident and active USTA Metro volunteer.
Tennis has always been a big part of Akpan’s life. Growing up in Seattle, Washington, she started playing when she was eight years-old at her local swim and tennis club. Akpan actively played tennis through high school, and then set it aside for 20 years. She decided to join a USTA Women's league with a friend and quickly became hooked.
“It wasn't just the game I fell back in love with, it was the social networks I built and enjoy,” said Akpan. “For that reason I continue to give back with my commitment to growing an inclusive tennis community.”
From her work at the Knick program, Akpan realized that many of the children love the game but cannot afford to play, which inspired her to become involved with the USTA Junior Team Tennis (JTT) program. A core component of Net Generation, the new USTA youth tennis movement, JTT is a cooperative junior league in which kids learn about unity, sportsmanship and how to work together to achieve success…all through tennis. Kids play with children of similar skill level while being introduced to team competition in a setting that focuses on developing skills, offering play opportunities and promoting fun. JTT is an available for boys and girls, ages 6 to 18; co-ed teams are organized by age, and give junior players a chance to engage in match play in spirited and supportive team setting. As players skills develop and evolve, JTT participants can also enjoy opportunities to play at higher levels. “I saw JTT as an affordable and accessible outlet for youth to have fun with the sport and improve their match play skills,” said Akpan. In 2013, Akpan’s JTT program consisted of 150 kids. Today, more than 500 juniors play JTT in the Metro area.
In addition to JTT, Akpan also works with Cunningham Tennis in Fresh Meadows, Queens, to bring tennis to public schools. Most NYC elementary schools do not have tennis built into their PE curriculum and Akpan and her colleagues wanted to give these kids a chance to play.
“With easy pop-up nets, red foam balls and smaller racquets, you can play tennis just about anywhere including the gym, playground or your neighborhood park,” said Akpan.
One of Cunningham's most successful programs has been their Tennis Field Trips. Elementary school classes in the Queens community visit Cunningham for a 60-90 minute "taste of tennis" experience formatted to integrate fast paced fitness and tennis activities across a variety of stations. To date, Cunningham has introduced tennis to over 2,000 children through these Field Trips and continues to explore most effective ways to continue to grow the game within the public schools.
“The USTA Net Generation curriculum has been an integral part of our field trip programs,” said Akpan. “We use the Community Practice and Play Plans for our drills and games for Pre-K through 6th grade.” Akpan and her core troop of volunteers see tremendous value in tennis well beyond the court, and enjoys helping kids to learn about tennis and, through the sport, themselves.”
For more information about Junior Team Tennis, feel free to contact Kristina Desimone, USTA Eastern’s Manager of Youth Programs, who oversees JTT programming throughout the section.