All about the kids for Bert Cole in Texas
For the better part of five decades, Bert Cole has been making a difference in the lives of countless young people across the state of Texas. The director of junior recreational tennis at the Dallas Tennis Association since 2002, Cole estimates that nearly 20,000 youth come through programming organized by the Dallas Tennis Association and the Dallas Tennis & Education Academy annually.
The DTEA, a USTA Foundation National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter, offers a variety of programming for Dallas-area youth, including Junior Team Tennis and a USTA Foundation Excellence Team, after-school programming in partnership with the Dallas Independent School District, and summer NJTL tennis. The NJTL thrives in the area thanks to partnerships with area organizations, and Cole credits local parks and recreation departments, schools and the Police Athletic Leagues (PAL) of Dallas and Irvine for their expansive reach into the community.
In addition to her work with the NJTL, Cole also teaches tennis to special-needs populations, including deaf students in Dallas schools, and runs the All-Stars tennis program at the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital, which specializes in the treatment of orthopedic conditions and sports injuries, as well as arthritic, neurological and learning disorders.
A Texan by birth and a PTR-certified professional, Cole spent years teaching on military bases around the country before settling back in her home state, where she ran a private coaching business teaching in Arlington and running camps at local universities. That business, while lucrative, did not offer the diversity of players that she felt reflected the population of the area she called home.
When she was offered the opportunity to move into work at the DTA, she felt called to the opportunity, and jumped at the chance.
"I loved it first time that I saw kids that look like me playing tennis. All of my students before then were private kids, kids with parents with real deep checkbooks," Cole said.
"I had good private business... but then I went over and I saw these little Black kids, Hispanic kids, white kids all together on the court. And I thought, 'This is cool.' I never saw that many Black kids playing tennis, and I was excited to have the chance to work with them."
Accepting the role also afforded Cole the opportunity to elevate the position of women in leadership roles in the organization. Early in her career, she recalls, there were few women teaching professionals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and she says that uses her own personal experiences to inspire "her kids" to continue to chase their own dreams.
"We'd walk in a room and all the men looked like, 'What are they doing in here?'. You know, it was that attitude. It drove me for sure to almost say, 'You hide and watch, and you'll know why I'm here. You'll see what I can do that you'll never be able to do because you're not a woman,'" she said.
"Women, to me, are more go-getters and make things happen. They're willing to work harder because their task is harder. I want to show our kids that even though the mountain might be large, but if you stick to it long enough, you'll climb it."
In the two decades since she's joined the organization, Cole's NJTL has been named the National NJTL Chapter of the Year three times, and she has been honored with numerous USTA service awards including the 2018 NJTL Founders’ Service Award for her long-standing commitment to positive youth development through tennis and education, and the 2020 PTR Professional of the Year honor. She is also a member of the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame and the T Bar M Racquet Club Hall of Fame.
And despite recently needing a knee replacement, Cole says that she has no plans to slow down.
"Everything is about the children. I tell people that all the time, that it's not about me and you, it's about the kids. I do it for the children because I know what our kids need and I know what our kids are not getting and weren't getting," Cole said.
"There are just so many things that our kids have not had, and never would have had without having this program and the USTA Foundation's work that they do. They would've never had these opportunities. I never had them. Tennis is the tool that we use to make sure these kids are going to school, hooked into the books, and all that.
"It's important that we do this for the good of the community. We need to look and see where kids need the most help, and when you go there, those kids, they need to see your face...and get to the point where where you can step back, look at the work that you're doing and you can see kids believing in themselves. They need to know that you care about them. So it's not a job for me, it's a mission."