Pride Month Spotlight: President of Second City Tennis, Tuan Ngo
In celebration of Pride Month, the USTA/Midwest Section is spotlighting board members of Second City Tennis (SCT) — a Chicago-based organization focused on creating and supporting social and competitive tennis programming for LGBTQIA+ and allied communities. Kicking off this two-part series is President Tuan Ngo.
Second City Tennis (SCT) leadership says it's looking forward to welcoming back any players who took a break from tennis during the pandemic.
The Chicago organization's president, Tuan Ngo grew up about three hours southwest of the windy city, and right now he's got his sights set on re-engaging players and attracting potential new members — people of all backgrounds, looking for a sport that's welcoming and inclusive.
Ngo says the mission of SCT is to create and support social and competitive tennis programs for LGBTQIA+ and allied communities.
"It’s really [about] bringing people together," says Ngo. "At times a sport like tennis can have that perception of being kind of an exclusive sport or a sport of affluence. And part of our goal as an organization is to really expand that scope and making sure that it’s accessible."
SCT is in charge of the Second City Tennis Classic, the largest tournament in the region sanctioned by the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Association.
Ngo says SCT has existed for over 30 years now, celebrating the big milestone about three years ago! The current president shared some of its popular programs, including social activities and league play.
While SCT has a lot of members who live in Chicago, people come from all over the world to play at SCT league events like Summer Singles (running now) and Winter Doubles. All play opportunities are listed on SCT's website with a brief description and event timeline for anyone interested in signing up.
Ngo has been an active member of Second City Tennis for almost 18 years. It was his comeback, according to Ngo.
Since he was 10 years old, Ngo had been playing competitive tennis almost constantly but called himself "burned out" from the game before he started college.
18-year-old Ngo decided to quit the sport that he'd played nearly half of his life, but then years later, he met someone at his gym who invited Ngo to one of SCT's social events.
Ngo, now the president of the organization he was introduced to years ago says, "It kind of opened my eyes to a different angle of tennis. I never knew programs and organizations like Second City existed... this kind of inclusive thing where I could enjoy the sport I played for most of my life."
Young Ngo used to love tennis. He says, he grew up with five older sisters and all of them played tennis. The five were all self-taught and became top players on their high school's tennis team. Younger brother Ngo learned to play with them, and he also played with neighbors from the Peoria area. "There was a group of Vietnamese— and that’s my heritage, Vietnamese— people who would just go out and play tennis, and our family would come out there and hang out with them too.
The young player practiced at city parks and school tennis courts, and when he was 14 years old, Ngo got scouted out. Someone saw him playing at the park and sponsored him — connecting him a professional player at a local tennis club.
The club is where Ngo began his formal tennis training, but he never forgets, "For the first number of years, it was just our family playing tennis together! It was fun!"
Ngo learned a lot about tennis through his family. He explains, "My family were immigrants from the Vietnam War. They came over here with nothing at all. So with a large family, we did not have means, and that was one thing that was limiting. We couldn’t afford to have lessons, and go to the club, and work with pros. My sisters had each other to practice, and that’s amazing that we as a family had that connection, but it also kind of show us how exclusive a sport like tennis can be."
As Ngo became a teenager, he started playing competetitively and his nonstop schedule began to take a toll. As he got closer and closer to college, he felt more and more isolated. "I was predominantly a singles player, and so it gets emotionally draining to kind of play like that for that many years with no break."
"Ironically, I was playing in a tournament in California, and I had maybe one of the best tournaments I ever played. I made it to the finals I believe, but I wasn’t even enjoying it," Ngo remembers. "The joy wasn’t there. Just being on the court felt heavy." Ngo knew that college tennis would mean more pressure, and he just didn't want it. So Ngo walked away...
And he missed the game as time went by, but Ngo says, "It was actually meeting people through Second City Tennis that I realized there’s this whole other side to tennis. That fully re-sparked the joy I had previously. I think that’s a transition a lot of people can realize if there are certain programs or organizations out there that they can relate to."
SCT offered Ngo a chance to play socially with caring individuals who cheered on one anothers' success. After playing for a few years with SCT, Ngo was asked to join the board—a group of volunteers who run all the league programs and social events. Now the president, Ngo is extremely involved, helping with several popular events each year!
Ngo reflects back on his time with SCT, remembering the immediate sense of community he felt.
"Particularly as a young player, showing up to tennis events or being part of the high school tennis team, at times you have feelings that you can’t come to tennis in a competitive atmosphere as your whole self," Ngo shares. "Looking at professional tennis now— and this isn’t just tennis, this is professional sports in general— just how many people don’t come out... And don’t come as their whole selves because of fear of perception or personal fears."
"A community like Second City Tennis— our whole goal is, people can be their whole selves and do something they really love," Ngo says.
The SCT president wants more leagues like Second City Tennis formed across the country. Ngo says the need for these organizations became more pronounced in the pandemic. People were appreciative that Second City Tennis provided safe programming, following safety guidelines from local health authorities, USTA, and the CDC. Ngo says people always have fun playing league tennis, but that appreciation grew during the Coronavirus crisis. "It gave people an outlet during a time where emotionally people were struggling."
This week, the state of Illinois fully reopened, and Ngo hopes he can reintroduce social events (like Rosé All Day!) to the SCT calendar in safe and responsible ways.
Another SCT board member is taking the lead to partner with other organizations, in hopes of creating an exciting competition that brings together GLTA-sanctioned clubs around the Midwest. A name for such event is currently in the works!
It's that family feeling at Second City Tennis, that makes a difference for players, and it was Ngo's family unit that made tennis worthwhile growing up.
One of his proudest moments playing the game was a high school match against a family friend. The kid Ngo was up against talked a lot of smack before the match, but his words meant nothing in hindsight. The scorecards had the final say and Ngo won. None of Ngo's family members could watch that day, but his competitors' family saw it all, and Ngo's family was so proud when he told them the good news — he won!
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