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Unstoppable Women in Tennis: Middle States President Nancy Wilkins
From the moment Nancy Wilkins began playing tennis, she knew she wanted to teach the sport.
“Once I started playing tennis, teaching was all I wanted to do,” said Wilkins, the Director of Tennis at Ron Jaworski’s RiverWinds Golf and Tennis Club. “So when I was a sophomore in high school, I asked my parents if I could take a clinic, because I wanted to start teaching at my local swim club. I wanted to make sure I was doing it correctly before I taught people the wrong thing.”
Thanks to her older sister Karen, Wilkins began playing tennis in eighth grade so that the two could play on their high school team together. At the time, Wilkins was fully invested in softball, but once she realized she could play tennis for the school and softball for the town, she was in.
Her sister’s master plan worked.
The pair not only played on the same high school team, but the same college team at Elizabethtown College. During Wilkins’ freshman year of college, the first indoor tennis facility in the Delaware Valley, Haddonwood, opened. It was within biking distance from her home, so while on break from school, Wilkins got up the nerve to ask for a summer job there.
“I figured, they can always just say no,” said Wilkins, who took over as Middle States President in January. “But nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I went over and they hired me to start working summers.”
Today, Wilkins loves teaching as much as she did when she first started.
The difference now? Wilkins has decades worth of students and connections who she’s introduced tennis to, and helped instill a love for the game.
“There's just nothing like sharing the passion of the game with young players and seeing if they stay with it,” Wilkins said. “That is one of the things that I'm really proud of. A lot of the kids that I teach either come back to see me or stay in the business.”
Wilkins' impact on her students spans generations. She recently received a call from a former student that she describes as one of the greatest phone calls she’s received.
“I hadn’t heard from this student in probably 20 years,” Wilkins recounted. “She called to tell me that her daughter started playing tennis and she was thinking of me. She wanted me to know how happy it made her that she's playing tennis, because she was so happy when she played tennis with me.”
That’s not uncommon feedback for players who have worked with Wilkins. Those around Wilkins describe her as hard-working and generous — always looking out for their best interests. These are the same qualities that make Wilkins one of Middle States’ most accomplished and well-respected volunteers, as she’s served as a district and section volunteer for many years.
Wilkins' impact will continue to stretch beyond the lines of the tennis court as she serves as the USTA Middle States Board President for the 2023-2024 term. One of her goals as President is to expand adaptive tennis: unified tournaments, accessibility, networking, etc.
“I’ve known Nancy for a really long time, and I’m so excited that she’s leading the way for Middle States in 2023 and 2024,” said Ben Zislis, USTA Middle States Executive Director. “Nancy does an amazing job leading projects and has a knack for getting things done. We’re lucky to be in such a good position with her at the helm this term.”
Wilkins, creator of the National Adaptive Championships and member of the USTA Adaptive Committee, got involved as a coach and volunteer with the Special Olympics in 1988. She continues to advocate and provide opportunities for this underrepresented community of athletes. And with her new platform she will focus her energy in the adaptive space.
Another focus for Wilkins is addressing the current coaching and court shortages.
“The good news is tennis is growing,” she said. “The bad news is we're losing our coaches and/ or we're not growing our coaches as fast as we're growing our players. We are also losing our courts.”
With a clear focus on expanding adaptive tennis, training and retaining a diverse group of coaches and advocating to keep tennis courts at local parks and clubs, Wilkins is ready to hit the ground running.
And it is clear, when Wilkins puts her mind to something she gets it done.
Cruise Control Gear has joined USTA Middle States in sponsoring our Unstoppable Women in Tennis series, highlighting the incredibly strong women who are forces on and off the court in our Middle States community.
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