2019 Year in Review:
Looking Back on NJTL50
Victoria Chiesa | November 21, 2019
As 2019 draws to a close, USTA.com is taking a look back at the top storylines, headlines and highlights from the year in American tennis. Here, we’re taking a look back at the semi-centennial celebration of the National Junior Tennis and Learning Network (NJTL).
In 1969, Arthur Ashe, Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder were looking for a way to bring tennis to the next generation, and in 2019, their National Junior Tennis and Learning Network (NJTL) celebrated a milestone birthday.
In the half-century since the three friends and pillars of tennis founded the NJTL—when the entrepreneuring Snyder packed 200 used tennis racquets into his car and drove from Connecticut to Harlem for a clinic with 25 local boys and girls—the tennis and education network has grown exponentially and touched countless lives around the country.ADVERTISEMENT
Currently featuring nearly 300 chapters and reaching approximately 180,000 youth annually, NJTL chapters provide free or low-cost programming to the 50 largest markets in the U.S., and its philanthropic work with thousands of tennis players over the past five decades was recognized in 2019.
“The USTA Foundation has a lot to celebrate this year, and we’re especially excited to highlight 50 years of the NJTL network,” said Dan Faber, Executive Director, USTA Foundation, at the launch of the NJTL 50th Anniversary campaign in March.
“We are proud of how this powerful network continues to uplift and impact under-resourced youth through tennis and education programs, as well as instill the ideals and values demonstrated and taught by its founders, Arthur Ashe, Sheridan Snyder and Charlie Pasarell.”
Over the course of the year, the USTA Foundation told 50 of the most inspiring stories of NJTL alumni, supporters and influencers who have shaped the program’s course over the past half-century in its 50 for 50 series.
These included spotlights of former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, a US Open fixture and supporter of NJTL for decades; former ATP world No. 4, NJTL alumnus and USTA Foundation President James Blake; and the current Immediate Past President of the USTA Katrina Adams, who honed her game on the public courts of Chicago and also served as executive director at the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program NJTL.
In addition to digital content, the campaign also went on the road with tangible activations, sponsoring tennis clinics for youth across the country at professional tournaments and raising awareness for the anniversary and the Foundation's new fundraising campaigns, which were bolstered by a text-to-donate option and the use of the hashtag #NJTL50 on social media.
This included various stops on the ATP and WTA tours—the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina, and in conjunction with the Philadelphia Freedoms of World TeamTennis—and featured current world-class tennis players, including Danielle Collins, Maria Sakkari, Martin Klizan and all-time great Chris Evert.
To cap off the American tennis year on home soil at the US Open, the 21st annual NJTL essay contest was also directly tied to the network's 50 years of philanthropy and community outreach.
Students aged 10-18 were asked, “What specific impact do you hope your chapter can make in your community today that you would want remembered 50 years from now?” And 10 worthy winners from NJTL chapters in nine different states were selected for a weekend adventure in New York City at Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day and the US Open.
Now, as the NJTL network looks ahead to its next 50 years, it's already lined up the next wave of leaders to help lead the cause forward into the coming decades.
In January, 18-time Grand Slam champion Evert was named the next chair of the USTA Foundation’s Board of Directors, while, in November, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens was announced as the Foundation’s first-ever National Excellence Program Ambassador.
Stephens’ duties in her new role will involve promoting and participating in special activations around the country, which include video conference sessions in which NJTL participants will be able to ask the American champion questions about tennis, education, competition and sportsmanship.
“The NJTL has done a lot for youth sports, especially youth tennis. It grows the game, gives kids the opportunity to play,” Stephens said.
“For me, to be able to give back and have other kids look up to me, I think that's really cool.”