Making A Difference–
Play It Forward NJTL Program
August 20, 2019
The USTA Foundation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network this year. To honor the event, the USTA is recognizing many of the NJTL programs around the country that leave such a lasting impact on their communities, youth, and the game of tennis.
USTA Missouri Valley recently got in touch with Play It Forward Tennis Foundation. This NJTL program is founded on outreach and inclusion, celebrating the idea that anyone from anywhere should be able to play and compete.
Play It Forward looks to empower all children through mentoring and teamwork, with a special emphasis on serving those with Down Syndrome and providing opportunities for underserved children that may not have the means to afford tennis lessons.
The foundation is run by David Minihan, who also keeps busy as Executive Director of USTA Oklahoma, 22-year tennis coach, Kickingbird Director of Tennis, master professional with the United States Professional Tennis Association, and founder/chief editor of the Baseliner Oklahoma Tennis magazine.ADVERTISEMENT
USTA.com: How did you first become involved with NJTL personally?
Minihan: We had a program for underserved players at Westwood for 20 years. We worked with the City of Norman to develop a foundation that would help pay for players' equipment, instruction and tournament travel. In addition, we gave hundreds of tennis scholarships. Today at Kickingbird Tennis Center, we developed a new foundation called Play It Forward which is a NJTL chapter. This program focuses on those that are underserved and children with Down Syndrome.
USTA.com: What inspired you to start Play It Forward, and in what year did this program officially begin?
Minihan: We officially started around May 2018. We have always given back through scholarships and free equipment, but we wanted to establish our own foundation that focused on underserved communities and special needs. I love working with all children, but children with Down Syndrome have really touched my heart. Early in 2018 I was speaking to a parent and one of his children, who has Down Syndrome, came up to me and gave me a big hug and told me she wanted to play tennis. I was sold and created the Down Syndrome program as a part of Play It Forward. It has turned out to be the staple of our foundation.
USTA.com: You have an extensive past and current resume with tennis—why did you feel compelled to add Play It Forward to your list of responsibilities despite all your other tennis leadership roles?
Minihan: As I have gotten older, my outlook on life and tennis has changed. I met my wife through tennis. My kids play tennis. Tennis has provided a living for my family. I want to give back to the game that has given me so much.
USTA.com: What’s been the most impactful thing you’ve learned through your experience with NJTL?
Minihan: Without question, life skills. Tennis is helping our athletes build confidence, work together as a team, be positive with their teammates and so much more.
USTA.com: In order to get a scholarship to participate in one of your tennis programs, children must be passing their classes in school. How important to you is a child's education?
Minihan: Yes, through our Big Ace program, which is for children that might not have the means to afford tennis, we require players to be passing all of their classes to be eligible for tennis scholarships. Education is priority number one for us and we want to pass that philosophy on to our kiddos.
USTA.com: How have you seen the kids in your programs grow in their time with Play It Forward?
Minihan: It is a joy for us to see our players improve and how they are developing into tennis champions each and every day they come to one of our clinics. I believe that our athletes are sometimes underestimated on what they can or cannot do. They are proving them wrong!
USTA.com: What are some of your goals for the future with Play It Forward?
Minihan: We are extremely blessed to move into a 30-court facility with a 30,000 square foot clubhouse. The sky is the limit! For phase 2 of construction, we will one day have a classroom that will be dedicated solely for NJTL and Adaptive Tennis. We are hoping to have an after school program that will offer free tennis instruction and complimentary tutoring to help our kiddos with their school work. For the summer, we want to expand our current program with such things as arts and crafts. We are really excited about all the possibilities once we move into our new facility sometime late spring 2020.
Contact Laura Puryear at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about NJTL programs within USTA Oklahoma, or go to this page on the USTA Foundation’s website to learn more about the NJTL Network as a whole.