August 6, 2018
There are virtually no commonalities between the sports of wrestling and tennis, except that they are both sports. But when the 15-LOVE executive director, Amber Marino, was contacted by the USTA Foundation to see if she would be interested in hosting a visit with one of the World Wrestling Entertainment (known by most as WWE) starring characters, she was caught off guard. But it soon became abundantly clear that Thaddeus Bullard, known as WWE Superstar Titus O'Neil, was going to inspire the kids 15-LOVE serves.
“I had never heard of Titus O’Neil until I received the call from the USTA Foundation,” said Marino. “But our kids knew him and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity for our kids. It ended up being one of the most inspirational events, ever.”
Titus, whose given name is Thaddeus Bullard, faced many of the same challenges during his youth that the 15-LOVE kids are facing. ADVERTISEMENT He sees tennis as the perfect medium for cultivating the positive character traits he, as a child, was taught and harnessed to overcome the adversity he confronted, including bullying, poverty and violence.
“There were special people interested in helping me without the guarantee of anything in return, much like the people here [at 15-LOVE] are investing in you,” O’Neil told the children. “Let them help you. Life has been a blessing to me. Your time here may not prepare you for the US Open, but hopefully it will prepare you to live the best life you possibly can.” “Never did I expect that Titus would change our childrens’ lives the way he did,” said Marino. “He had this amazing ability to be with a group of kids, and just by the way they were sitting and listening to him, it was like he knew them for years. He called many of them up to stand beside him so he could speak to each child individually and brought them out of their shells. It was heart-warming.”
15-LOVE, one of the oldest and most successful national junior tennis and learning (NJTL) organizations in the country, has served the Capital Region for nearly 30 years. The late Arthur Ashe was instrumental in helping found this sports-based youth development program. Ashe got his start on public tennis courts; his philosophy, which guides in its work, was to "use tennis to teach the game of life." Over the years, 15-LOVE has evolved and grown into a robust year-round program, serving more than 47,000 youth and their families. For more information about 15-LOVE, please visit https://www.15love.org/.