Alerson Suan, Sterling Heights' Outgoing Organizer
In celebration of Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, USTA.com is shining a spotlight on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders who have impacted our sport, both as champions and as champions of change. One of those champions was Michigan's "Outgoing Organizer" Alerson Suan, whose lifetime of volunteerism resulted in dozens—if not hundreds—of players finding a game they love and friends they love even more.
In April 2022, Suan suddenly passed away, but his mission to connect people, lives on. Suan's friends share their sentiments, sorrow and stories below.
From members of the Midwest Metro Tennis League and USTA volunteers:
"We have lost someone who has a big heart and is dedicated in growing our tennis community." — Josef T Provido
"A community leader... You will be missed dearly." — Thanh Tran
The following article was originally published by USTA Midwest in May 2021, when Al Suan was interviewed for Asian-American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Suan's message highlighted exactly how sport can be a vehicle for self-discovery, socialization and joy—vitally important aspects of all games that are easily forgotten without shining stars, like Al, to remind us:
Not all tennis players grow up as incredible athletes. Some of them grow up more interested in books and trivia.
Full-time accountant and USTA volunteer, Alerson Suan (Al for short) was a kid in the Philippines where the number one sport is basketball, but Al didn't want to play. Of all the competitions Al has been a part of in his life, the one he's most proud of is a nationally televised quiz show where he made it all the way to the quarterfinals as a college student. The show was Battle of the Brains and Al's school friends couldn't wait to see how well did.
As the show advanced, the rounds became increasingly difficult, but Al was prepared. One questions category focused on Hollywood film directors.
"My family, they were surprised. How could I answer? Who was the director of Psycho or Gone With The Wind? I got all of them right!" Al reveals he loves to watch movies and learned some of their history before going on the show — in case of a movie category — smart move.
Getting to know Alerson now, you'd think he was a lifelong athlete.
Both as a player and an organizer, Al is now active in the world of tennis.
Alerson helps coordinate tennis clinics for the Filipino American Sports Teams of Detroit (FAST-D) and sets up volleyball tournaments around the Midwest. He has captained 60 USTA teams and created an outdoor tennis league with an annual summer festival and a winter championship.
Alerson came to the United States and has been a Michigander since 2001.
While living in the Philippines, Al used to hit a tennis ball against a wall just to have some fun. He used to play with his brother's racquet. "He became a seminarian and left his racquet in the house," Al explains. "Since he was away and confined in the seminary, I didn't really play with him. So I learned myself by constantly hitting on a wall. Just because getting a tennis instructor is very expensive in the Philippines."
Alerson explains that a lot of Filipino players are self-taught. As he remembers hitting up against a public building, Al begins to laugh. "It’s so funny. When you hit the ball, it sometimes would go over a wall and the security guards of the building would try and make money by selling the balls. You could buy them back for half the price."
As for tennis courts in the Philippines, Alerson says they were only accessible at country clubs where you had to be a member to play. "I played my first tennis match at a makeshift court built on a parking lot."
So when Al's brother got him a job in America, he was excited to see what he calls, "an immense amount of places to play tennis."
Coming to a new country, Al had one concern — making friends. "I didn’t want to be a nobody," Al feared. "That’s when I started approaching people on the tennis courts. Like hey can I hit with you?"
To this day, Al says he knows very little about tennis technique. He never received "proper" training so variations in grip don't mean much to him. "All I know about tennis is getting [the ball] over the net." And Al had plenty of time to play every single day. He moved to America in June when the days stretch on. "That surprised me and made me ecstatic! I didn’t realize yet about the winter in Michigan," Al laughs.
Al started playing at Wimbledon Racquet Club in St. Clair Shores, Michigan and began to captain USTA teams. "I thought... this USTA is about team games. I’m not the best player, but I can find the best people to play with." Some of Al's teams have advanced to the Midwest Championship, but one of them went all the way to Nationals — a 3.0 team that competed in Tucson, Arizona.
As a doubles player and a captain, Al was making a lot of friends within the USTA. One day he thought to himself, why don't I start my own singles tennis league? "You hear a lot of people who say they stopped playing tennis. Well, why did they stop playing? They say, I’ve got nobody to play with. Well, that sucks…" So Al started the Midwest Metro Tennis League (MMT League) with a mission to connect people through tennis. The MMT League has a lot of new interest. "I think it’s because of the pandemic." The Physical Activity Council's Participation (PAC) Report found U.S. tennis participation surged in 2020.
Alerson says he is a 3.5 player now, but these days he prefers organizing tennis events, and volleyball too. Al calls volleyball a "growing sport" in the Detroit, Michigan area. He created a volleyball Facebook group with 2,500 people following it. He also coordinates volleyball events all around the state, and if he sees a park without a net, he takes the time to set one up — just because he can.
Al believes the power of sports allows him to exercise leadership and make people smile.
"What if my event brings someone out of a darkness they’re feeling? Then it’s all worth it. That’s the thing that fulfills me… Seeing people happy."
Ironically, Al's karaoke pick is Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues." When he's not out playing tennis or volleyball, Al enjoys going out with his friends and singing karaoke (another favorite: "My Girl" by The Temptations). For Al, life is about people, about friendship — something tennis provides.
"From time to time when I go to the park, I will approach a player hitting on a wall. I ask to play with them. One guy became my hitting partner, and I remember his words thanking me... He hadn't been to tennis because he didn't have anybody to play with. That inspired me to start an avenue where people can meet new players to play with."
More quotes in Al Suan's memory:
"It's very sad... Al was a really nice man who was one of the area's great leaders for community tennis. He will be missed." — Michele Hurst Burton
"This is so awful. Al was a great person and an advocate..." — Cade McLogan
"Al was a volunteer champion, donating his time to bring people together... For many years, Al hosted events year-round uniting people. Many friendships have been created thanks to him!" — Tim Ross