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Missouri Valley / Missouri

Monett Teacher, Boys & Girls Clubs Win Gold Star Awards

Jeff Kessinger | May 01, 2020

The sport of tennis doesn’t grow without a little hard work. USTA Missouri Valley, in honor of its 100th anniversary in 2020, is handing out Gold Star awards to recognize the people doing that work.


Missouri’s first Gold Star winners are Jason Smith of Monett School District, and the Springfield Boys & Girls Clubs.


“I was really surprised to receive the award,” Smith said. “I am just doing what I love to do. Tennis is such a great sport, and I want to share my love for the sport with others.”


The Boys & Girls Clubs’ win was a team effort, which fits right in with what they do.


“We have always strived to provide unique opportunities for kids and the tennis program is a perfect example of that,” Sam Plummer, Sports Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield, said.


Smith has taught English at Monett for eight years and has been involved with the Cubs’ high-school tennis teams for five years, the last three as the head coach. But his involvement in tennis goes deeper than that.


“I also do an after school sports program, including tennis, with fifth and sixth graders,” Smith said. “Next year I will be starting a brand new middle school tennis club for seventh and eighth graders.”


Michael Marotta, a tennis service representative for USTA Missouri Valley, nominated Smith for a number of reasons. Those include his willingness to attend training and continuing education and his Net Generation certification. 


“Jason has been an integral part of growing the sport of tennis in the Monett community,” Marotta said. “He's assisted the USTA to provide resources for the school district, such as tennis equipment and curriculum for their physical education classes. Jason and (his wife) Penny also give a free tennis camp during the summer to local kids.”


Smith is more than happy to take advantage of the resources USTA offers.


“Net Generation has been a big part of my growth for tennis in the Monett community,” he said. “I do tennis camps and clinics for kindergarten-aged kids to high school students. USTA and Net Generation have helped me build the popularity of tennis in the community.”


Plummer’s background in tennis isn’t as extensive, but he has seen the benefit of teaching young people the sport.


“We have used the tennis program to encourage kids that they can do anything,” he said. “At the Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield we want to encourage kids they can be whoever they want to be. Tennis is unfortunately seen as a ‘rich kid’ sport. Our program at the Boys & Girls Clubs lets kids jump outside their comfort zone and try something new.”


Plummer has worked for Boys & Girls Clubs for a little more than four years. He started working part time as gym staff for two years and was hired as Sports Coordinator in July 2018. He’s not doing it all alone. The Boys & Girls Clubs have teamed up with Cooper Tennis Complex to help teach the game. Plummer calls that partnership amazing.


“We are able to take kids on field trips and see the Lasers play and Cooper sends staff over to our clubs to run our tennis programs as well,” he said. “My background in tennis has been mostly recreational. I enjoy the sport and play with friends occasionally. I have learned more about the sport through our partnership with the USTA and Cooper over the last 4 years.”


Plummer’s enthusiasm has been noticed by people like Marotta.


“The first time I saw Sam on the tennis court it was clear that he cares deeply for the kids and wants them to have a positive experience,” Marotta said. “All five of the units have had numerous tennis clinics and activities throughout the past few summers. Cooper Tennis Complex and the USTA are continuing to work with Sam to engage kids in tennis and provide a healthy lifetime activity.”


And the kids are what Boys & Girls Clubs are all about.


“The Boys & Girls Clubs provide amazing opportunities for kids,” Plummer said. “Our Tennis program is a great example of our commitment to the betterment of these kids’ lives.”


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