2020 Women's History Month: Mid-Atlantic Spotlight
Tennis helps people and communities grow stronger, healthier, and more connected. It is a lifetime sport that can be played by anyone, anywhere, and is not limited based on gender.
Did you know that tennis is one of the few sports in the world in which the earning potential is the same for male and female players? Thanks to Billie Jean King, a pioneer of equality and social justice, women in tennis are among the highest-paid female athletes according to Forbes Magazine.
With Women’s History Month being celebrated this March, USTA Mid-Atlantic sought to find inspiring stories of local women in our tennis community and what we uncovered was that we didn’t have to look very far. In fact, right in our Section office, we had three women stepping up and inspiring other young women through tennis locally. Beth Elrefai, Amy O'Brien and Cara Orenzuk are full-time USTA Mid-Atlantic employees as well as Varsity Girls High School tennis coaches to local teams in Northern Virginia. Not only are these women dedicated to the sport, but they are paving the way for the next generation of women in tennis.
“The number one thing I love about tennis in contrast to other sports, is that it truly is a lifelong sport,” says Beth Elrefai, recreation programs assistant at USTA Mid-Atlantic and girls tennis head coach at Tuscarora High School. “I hope to instill a love of the game and that they will continue to play as adults,” she said. Beth has been coaching tennis for 9 years now and says she continues because each player she coaches has become an important part of her life.
Not only does she promote physical fitness on the court, she believes tennis teaches a level of mental fitness that no other sport does. “Figuring out the opponent and testing physical skills helps develop problem-solving skills in a way that other sports do not, which they can use in adulthood too,” said Beth.
Similar to Beth, Cara Orenzuk, manager of recreation programs in Loudoun County and WV for USTA Mid-Atlantic and girls tennis head coach at Loudoun Valley High School, shares how important it is for her to teach her female athletes the lifelong benefits of tennis. Cara believes that tennis helps pave the way into adulthood.
“They are able to start to find their voice, develop a passion [that is] just for themselves and start to show the world who they are. I am passionate about lifting young women up to help them be their best selves,” Cara said.
Cara further explains how she is a living example of how tennis can change someone’s life. “Tennis provided a new opportunity for me as an adult after recovering from a serious health crisis. Realizing how short life can be, I decided to do something just for me, and thought it would be fun to attend a few tennis clinics,” she explains. She is now an avid adult USTA League player herself and has brought that passion and love for the sport into her household, as her daughter and husband both enjoy the game.
The same could also be said for Amy O’Brien, the adult social coordinator for USTA Mid-Atlantic and girls tennis head coach at Heritage High School. Tennis plays a huge role in her life and within her family. Her son and daughter went through school participating in the sport, so it was a no brainer that she would help them grow and develop by becoming their tennis coach.
“I started coaching both boys and girls tennis due to my kids,” Amy said. “After they both graduated from high school, I was asked by different students to stay on the coaching staff.”
Amy believes it is important to teach girls the benefits of tennis that she has learned in her athletic career in the sport. “I want them to have someone who understands tennis. These girls are playing varsity tennis and I believe that they deserve someone with knowledge of the sport,” she said. This is why she comes back every year to coach these developing athletes, even though her own children have been out of high school for a few years now.
Tennis continues to play an important role in the lives of these three influential women. Each work full time for USTA Mid-Atlantic helping to drive the mission of the organization and grow the sport; commit nearly 20 hours each week to coaching, developing and competing with their high school tennis teams; support their families, and still find time to get out on the tennis court themselves.
Beth, Amy, and Cara have learned important skills and lessons by playing and promoting the sport, and they hope to have a positive impact on the girls they coach. “My ultimate goal is for the girls to act as a team, make lifelong friends, have fun and see growth in the sport,” says Beth.
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month at USTA Mid-Atlantic, we are inspired by these women among our staff and the message they are promoting to their high school players.
“Always try out. Don’t not try! There are many beginners on a high school tennis team,” says Cara. This message not only relays to playing tennis, it can also be used as the mantra for girls everywhere. Always try, don’t not do it! Be it tennis or anything else - just go for it. You can do it.
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to read more inspiring stories. We want to know your story too! If you are interested in sharing your tennis story and the possibility of being featured contact Megan Driscoll at email@example.com.