USTA Bracelets Bring Smiles to Kids
Victoria Chiesa | September 30, 2019
With over 300,000 players across 17 sections, those who participate in USTA League programs are pillars in local communities across the country—and one woman in Texas is living proof of that.
Kay Hendrix represented the San Antonio area in the women’s 40-and-over and 65-and-over divisions at last year’s USTA League National Championships—and with the help of the USTA, she’s used her success on court to add a splash of color to the lives of children in Texas.
Last year, the USTA launched ‘Color Wars’ at League National Championship sites: each section is given specific color, and participants will wear that color proudly on court in various ways.
The USTA provides matching rubber wristbands as a memento for qualifying, and competitors are encouraged to exchange them with each other at each tournament in a show of camaraderie and sportsmanship—akin to the way in which athletes trade their countries’ pins every four years at the Olympic Games.ADVERTISEMENT
“We were wondering what we could do to really give the teams a sense of section pride,” said Elizabeth Murrieta, manager for USTA adult national championships, recalling the birth of the wristband initiative. “We wanted something that [showed] they were excited to represent the section that they’re coming from, and that they would be able to exchange something with the other sections as a keepsake to take home."
Following the debut of the bands at last year’s championships, Hendrix took those colors back to Texas and used them all to paint a rainbow across her home state.
An active volunteer who uses tennis to give back to people of all ages in the San Antonio area, Hendrix introduced herself to USTA staff at last year’s national competition to get the ball rolling on her latest philanthropic initiative.
“I’m always looking for neat little things for my kids,” Hendrix, a retired IT manager at a life insurance firm, said, “and [last year] I couldn’t imagine that there would be many more tournaments left where they would be using these bands. I asked if there were any extras left over, because I thought that they might be good little ‘door-prize’ type things for the kids.”
She distributed the leftover wristbands to children in various community groups, including a local National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapter through the San Antonio Tennis Association; a recreational tennis program for youth and adults with Down syndrome; after-care scholastic tennis programs with colors to match the various schools; Kinetic Kids, a non-profit that caters to children with physical and cognitive special needs; and Camp Discovery, a summer camp for children with cancer.
Hendrix, a volunteer at Camp Discovery for nearly 30 years, assists in two-day tennis instruction annually for over 150 attendees at the week-long camp.
Open to children ages 7 to 16, Camp Discovery offers an alternative to a traditional residential summer camp for children who are being treated at one of six Texas hospitals. The wristbands were a perfect fit, Hendrix explained, as each age group and cabin is also assigned a color at Camp Discovery.
Thanks to Hendrix’s ingenuity, annual attendees and counselors will be able to show their colors in a new way. The camp boasts a 94 percent return rate for its volunteers, estimating that 74 percent of them are cancer survivors, and that half are former campers themselves.
“When I gave the bands to the Camp Discovery kids, their comments were, ‘Oh, they’re the same colors as our cabin! These are cool!’ They were very grateful. They wore them, and they were so proud of them,” Hendrix said.
“It’s very rewarding for those of us who are out there doing this with them, and I know the parents are thrilled with what they see as a result. These kids can swing a racquet, they can hit a tennis ball, and they can enjoy it.
“When even one kid says, ‘I know that I can play,’ to you, it makes you feel like you moved the needle for at least one of them. Every child gets touched by somebody who’s trying to help them hit a tennis ball, be happy and feel good about it.”
‘Color Wars’ is set to return to USTA nationals this year, with tournaments taking place over seven weekends beginning on Oct. 4, and the USTA plans to once again provide Hendrix with more wristbands to use for next summer’s camp.
“Giving back to communities that support our programs—we have them in all 50 states, in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, as well—is a huge, important piece to us,” Murrieta added. “I think that we have a responsibility at the USTA to make sure that we are not only looking out for these opportunities, but that we’re open when these opportunities approach us.
“It’s really neat when you have someone from a local community, who has something going on that you don’t even know about, come and approach you. She used something as simple as wristbands to make a big difference.”