Lesli Toubassi on Working with the Maureen Connelly Brinker Foundation and Wichita Tennis Open
In honor of National Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, USTA Kansas wants to honor individuals from the AAPI community in our district who’ve made a significant impact on growing the sport of tennis.
Lesli Toubassi is one of those individuals.
While she didn’t start playing tennis until later in life, the impact she’s made on the tennis community in Wichita is something to be admired. As a former president and now emeritus of the Maureen Connelly Brinker Foundation and tireless supporter of the ever-popular Wichita Tennis Open, Lesli has made it her mission to boost interest in tennis to individuals from a variety of backgrounds, be it children just starting out or rising stars with hopes of turning pro.
“I actually didn’t learn to play tennis until I was 38,” said Lesli. “I had moved out of the country for a while, and when I came back to Wichita, a couple of my husband’s coworker’s wives–my friends–wanted to welcome me back to the city. They asked if I wanted to do [tennis] drills with them, so I did.
“These women who invited me were super athletes in high school,” she continued. “But I drilled just fine; but, when it came down to serving, I couldn’t get one in to save my life. So the instructor served for me that day!”
“Humility goes a long way,” Lesli laughed. “And there you have it–it’s been almost 15 years since then and I’ve worked my way up to a 4.0/4.5 player.”
Lesli’s journey to giving back to the tennis community has gone full-steam ahead in those 15 years. It started when she joined the Maureen Connelly Brinker Foundation, which helps bring tennis opportunities to children nationwide through fun-filled and educational events.
“The foundation works with the Wichita Tennis Open to provide tennis for the youth in the community,” said Lesli. “The mission [of the foundation] is to expose the sport of tennis to underprivileged children. We used to go to neighborhoods [in our community] and the summer programs would help expose children to tennis with a hope it reaches that one child who really takes to tennis and becomes a great player.”
Her work at the MCB Foundation helped kickstart the ongoing partnership with the Wichita Tennis Open. It was another way to solidify Wichita as a thriving tennis community that’s invested in providing the opportunities and support young players need to succeed. “I was president of the Foundation the year before the first Wichita Tennis Open when we started discussing how our community would benefit from having an actual tournament for up-and-coming tennis players,” said Lesli.
At the Wichita Tennis Open, the MCB Foundation hosts a Tennis Fun Day for children and hands out racquets for them to use. The children are invited to stay and watch the matches. Lesli has been a part of this since day one, and she couldn’t be happier. “I love it,” said Leslie. “I love being part of it, I love housing players. It’s really exciting when you house players and you stay in contact with them and watch them succeed.
“One of the players recently turned pro, and others are in the top 100, top 50,” she continued. “It’s really exciting!”
The Wichita Tennis Open is an ITF tournament that features college players and some veterans as they battle it out for the title. As a lower-level ITF tournament, the Open is a way for these rising stars to continue working on their game over the summer months and potentially earn some money. The players love it, and so do the fans–and Lesli loves being able to help make it happen.
“Our community is so strongly tied to tennis. We can host 3-5 players for up to 5 days during the tournament,” said Lesli. “But it’s great, because our community is so invested and proud of these players, it gets our community really excited!”
Among her favorite things about helping with the Wichita Tennis Open is seeing how far the players go in their careers after building bonds with them through providing housing support. “Really, my favorite thing is housing players–getting to know them and watching those who take off climb the rankings. You get to see these players play in your hometown and it’s super fun to watch their rankings go up and pretty soon you’re watching them on tv in all these tournaments that lead to the big tournaments. You see them playing in the majors… that’s probably one of my favorite things.”
If Lesli could leave one impression on players getting started with tennis, it’s this: “If I can learn tennis at the age of 38 and there are these young players out there, I would say to never stop dreaming, never give up. I see that, with these young players, they never give up. They’re in it for the long haul and they work so hard. And I think our tennis community loves it.”