Serves in Support

Scott Sode | October 15, 2020

West Side Tennis Club member Marnie Perez Ochoa vividly recalls learning her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2019.


“I found out while I was at work and I just remember sobbing on the hallway floor hoping no one would see me,” she says. “Receiving that news was one of the worst moments of my life.”


Since then, Perez Ochoa has watched her mother go through multiple surgeries and treatments; she’s had to become an expert on the many advancements made in cancer research, and understands firsthand the need for raising both more funds and more awareness. So when USTA Eastern approached her about its Serves in Support initiative—a philanthropic collaboration between the section and ACS where clubs or individuals can host a fundraising tournament to benefit the ACS cause and raise awareness for cancer prevention—she jumped at the chance to organize an event at West Side.


“When Eastern told me about their partnership with ACS, I was really excited and knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she explains. “Tennis has always been a huge part of my life. My grandmother [Yola Ramirez] was a Grand Slam champion in the 1950s. My grandfather also competed on tour. My parents met playing tennis. My mom, my uncle and I all played Division I tennis...It’s kind of perfect that this event combined all of that together and brought it full circle.”


West Side scheduled the tournament about three weeks out, for the weekend of October 3. Perez Ochoa immediately set to work, publicizing the event through email and the club’s social media channels. “I didn’t have to do too much internally because everyone was so keen to play,” she says. “With the pandemic this year, I think all of the members were craving any type of social interaction. Then, when you add in a good cause on top of that, you get really great buy-in. We have several members that have or have had cancer so it definitely hits home for us as a club.” 


Perez Ochoa hoped to be able to raise $5,000 for ACS through the tournament. She knew that if both days sold out, she could reach at least half that goal just based upon the tournament fee alone. “I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous that we were not going to raise anywhere near $5,000,” she admits. “I just didn’t know how much people were going to be able to donate, or if they were going to be able to donate at all given what we are all going through [in the world].”


She didn’t need to be nervous. As soon as West Side members received the email about the event, they started donating far beyond the $40 entry fee. 


“The total amount just kept growing and growing and our goal just kept increasing. Each time we set a new goal, we not only hit it but crushed it,” Perez Ochoa says. “At one point my friends and I had a group text going and each person was donating $1 more than the top donor. One of the guys in that group text was silent and didn’t respond for several days, so I thought he may make a grand gesture at the end to beat everyone else. Then I saw his donation for $5,000 come through and I was in absolute shock. He and his wife are some of the nicest people I have ever met, but I was genuinely in shock when I saw their donation.”


She was in even more shock the night the total amount they raised surpassed $20,000. Having dinner with a friend, Perez Ochoa says she started “jumping up and down, screaming in excitement...I genuinely got so excited after every donation. It doesn’t matter how much the person donated. They all meant a lot to me. Sure, those big $5,000 and $2,500 donations were fantastic, but it was beautiful seeing how our community came together to raise so much money.”


Ultimately, the Serves in Support event at West Side blew far past the initial $5,000 benchmark, raising an astounding $28,779 for ACS. Knowing his clientele, West Side CEO Mario DiPreta wasn’t surprised by the outcome. “I was delighted to hold Serves in Support for such a great cause—I felt the event would hit home with the membership of the Club,” he says. “I was not surprised we raised over $28,000. [Our members] always step up in a big way.”


Indeed, the ACS was thrilled with West Side’s efforts. “The American Cancer Society is honored to partner with USTA Eastern,” notes ACS Senior Manager of Community Development June Ingraham. “They offer exposure to a new audience in the tennis world and provide the ability to fundraise through collaboration with clubs, community tennis associations and at the college level. Our first tournament with the West Side Tennis Club was a stunning success thanks to an innovative and enthusiastic member who chaired the event. The bar has been set high, but we are confident our alliance [with Eastern] will yield strong results as we head into 2021 and beyond.”


The tournament itself, held over October 3-4, was divided into two events. One of the days was open to all levels and featured 16 mixed doubles teams facing off and switching partners after every match, so, as Perez Ochoa explains, “people met and got to know other members outside of their usual circle.” The other day featured some higher-level matches with 12 mixed teams competing; Perez Ochoa and her partner Andrew Pearlstein ended up making the final, but lost (in a very close tiebreaker) to West Side Board Member JP Evangelista and Christi Wagenaar.


“Winning a tournament will always bring a smile to my face, but the real winner of the day was ACS,” says Evangelista, whose own mother Christine passed away from a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. “In my spare time, I do a variety of cancer research fundraising through various music industry entities, so seeing this happen at my home tennis club was very special. Each member’s personal connection to cancer or shared empathy to what other members have experienced played a huge role in people’s generosity for this event.”


Overall, Perez Ochoa is thrilled to have been able to work with USTA Eastern and ACS to organizer the first-ever Serves in Support tournament.


“It was a really rewarding experience,” she says. “Right now with the political climate and the country feeling so divided, and the pandemic and quarantine, I feel like this event brought positivity and light into our community. We are already assuming we will have this event every year!”


Adds DiPreta: “The event was spectacular! [It was great to watch] our members utilizing all our courts available and cheering each other on. And it was great to see them having smiles on their faces and enjoying themselves for a wonderful cause during these uncertain times. We will hold another event [like this] in the future!”

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