A LASTING IMPACT FOR JUNIOR COMPETITION
July 1, 2019
Twenty-five years ago Bonnie Vona embarked on her tennis journey, and since then she has left a lasting impact that will affect the next generation of tennis players for years to come. For more than 10 years, she has served as senior manager of junior competition and player development for USTA Mid-Atlantic Section driving innovation and growth for junior players - from beginners taking their first steps into competitive tennis to the polished junior competitor rising through the ranks. She will soon depart the organization later in July to take on a new challenge supporting her military family.
We reflect on her time here in the Mid-Atlantic Section and with USTA Texas where she began her USTA career. She recounts her tennis journey and how it all began.
“I didn’t pick up a racquet as a child. ADVERTISEMENT It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started playing tennis, but since then tennis has played an important role in my life,” Bonnie says. From playing tennis at her local Community Tennis Association (CTA) in Houston, TX to becoming a tournament director, an official, then a full-time staff member of USTA Texas, tennis has played a key role in her life. She has worn many hats in the tennis world, and through it all Bonnie has made monumental strides in the world of tennis and tennis has benefitted from her dedication and passion. Her most noteworthy moments have been to improve the development of junior players.
“My goal was to create different opportunities for players to grow and develop so they can achieve the ranking they wanted from the beginning. It was not just about the competition for me, I wanted to ensure a great experience for each player that came through the Mid-Atlantic,” she says.
In the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, whenever a new innovation in junior competition came to fruition it was synonymous with Bonnie. She was responsible for the launch of regional training centers in the Section which allows advanced junior players to train with renowned coaches for two days to build their tactical tennis skills. “My role was to coordinate with players and coaches from around the Section to attend this regional training center, as well as make sure the national training program was available to all,” Bonnie said.
“It has truly been a gift to not only work with the coaches but to see the progression of players come from these training sessions. I have seen Frances Tiafoe, who is currently ranked number 39 in the world, come out of these regional training centers. Not only that, noted Division I college players, as well as promising juniors on the professional rise, like Natasha Subhash, who has now won two USTA Pro-Circuit events and is only 17,” Bonnie continues.
In the past 10 years, there have been more than 50 regional training centers across the Mid-Atlantic, to expand players training and add dimension to the competition of the next generation of tennis players.
Bonnie is also responsible for spearheading the launch and implementation of the youth player pathway in the Mid-Atlantic designed to help young players, ages 7 to 10, develop fundamentals and inspire them to play tennis more often. USTA has designed a best-in-class system to track the progress of junior players through participation in designated tournaments and Junior Team Tennis. This development has been such a success that the Mid-Atlantic Section is piloting 10u Early Development Camps to train and work with youth players on developing their fundamentals. Due to Mid-Atlantic’s achievements and advancements with play development, Bonnie was the first to be awarded Player Development Section Staff of the Year.
These accomplishments and accolades are only the tip of the iceberg for Bonnie. Most recently, she has been instrumental in driving change and setting a new standard for junior competition across all USTA Sections. Currently, there is a barrier that does not allow junior players to play tournaments in other sections because of the inconsistent tournament levels, rankings, and ratings.
Bonnie saw an opportunity to bridge the gap and make the rating and ranking process consistent nationwide and advocated for making a change with USTA Chief Executive of Community Tennis Craig Morris. And soon, changes will be on the way for 2020.
“This is a positive change for junior players. With this new rating system, supported by USTA and Sections, it allows each player to have more tournament options to play in, which helps them build their tennis ranking within the Section.” She has been instrumental in establishing USTA Mid-Atlantic Section as the first to implement many of the changes that will come for junior tournaments with a revamped schedule that is more accommodating for families, revised tournament pathways, and point levels for progression that helps achieve balance for young players and allows for appropriate development.
As much as Bonnie has blazed a trail for junior competition and player development, she’s been an inspiration for going above and beyond to give back and do good for the larger community. She unofficially holds the Guinness world record for most consecutive tennis matches, 38 to be exact. Bonnie played tennis for more than 26 hours to raise money for ThanksUSA to fund 75 scholarships, worth $3,000 each. “My second passion is helping Military families. Both my daughter and son-in-law are Captains in the Army and I use tennis as a way to not only raise money to support Military families but to connect veterans with the love for the sport,” Bonnie reflects.
Bonnie has also received awards and acknowledgments throughout her time at USTA. She was the first recipient of the ITA Collegiate Varsity Performer of the Year Award due to her innovation and partnership with collegiate coaches and USTA.
In her tenure at USTA, Bonnie has shown passion, leadership, and commitment to the Mid-Atlantic Section and has forged a path that will benefit future players and help grow the sport. She will be missed by all that have been fortunate to work with her - from her Mid-Atlantic Section colleagues to tournament directors, players, parents, officials, high school and collegiate coaches - her bright and caring disposition and infectious positivity will never be replaced.
As Bonnie finishes up her work at USTA Mid-Atlantic Section and prepares for her departure in July, she would like to leave junior players with some words of wisdom. “Do not worry about points, worry about your competition and your points and ranking will come. Be patient as some changes come with time.” She continues, “I would like to thank all players, parents, facilities and my small but mighty team at USTA Mid-Atlantic - I will miss everyone.”
The Mid-Atlantic section will greatly miss Bonnie as she embarks on her next journey in Texas with her family. She has left a positive impact that will shape the next generation of junior tennis players in the Mid-Atlantic and the nation. Please join us in sending Bonnie well-wishes on her next chapter.