Celebrate, educate, advocate: Meet the Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association
The Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association (aapita.org), established in 2022, describes its mission as developing, growing and elevating the visibility and interests of the AAPI tennis community. Dig deeper, though, and it is clear that the aim is not just to represent those currently interested in American tennis who have an ancestral connection to countries that represent over half of the world’s population.
The greater goals include advocating for the interests of the AAPI community who are current players, tennis administrators and providers, while also using this network and knowledge base to expand the touchpoints throughout the country where entry into (and retention within) the sport for a lifetime can be encouraged.
David Lee, a senior marketing consultant in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as a USPTA-certified teaching pro, USTA National DEI Committee member and CTA board president, is a founding board member of the AAPITA leadership team. Lee makes the point that while a passion for and interest in racquet sports runs deep within the Asian American/Pacific Islander community, AAPI leadership and representation in tennis is “under-indexing” relative to participation. That interest in tennis is evident from the numbers:
While the U.S. Census Department says just over 6% of the population has AAPI roots, USTA data estimates that 11% of USTA members identify as Asian American.
Among USTA staff overall, 9% identify as AAPI, with only 3% at the manager/director level or above. Among this country’s tennis providers, 7% see themselves as members of the AAPI community.
Despite this “over-indexing with AAPI tennis player participation,” says Lee, he explains the AAPITA opportunity: “We formed this group knowing that USTA has done a great job of recognizing and supporting the AAPI tennis community in the past. With AAPITA, though, we can focus on the deeper challenges with the lack of tennis leadership and managers. We need to grow and utilize the amazing USTA ecosystem to cultivate future AAPI leaders in tennis while also continuing to increase AAPI tennis participation overall. This focus on increasing AAPI leaders will bring even more AAPI players of all ages to get on the court in the future.”
Currently, the growth model includes free registration; providing readily accessible links to information concerning involvement at multiple levels as a player, administrator or local provider as well as development of resources to stimulate participation among the AAPI population; and, for the future, the creation of regional and national events encouraging and celebrating the community’s involvement with tennis. Channeling this growth into cultivating future tennis leaders and program providers for tennis, plus advocating and growing participation for the entire AAPI tennis community, is the ultimate goal.
As the leadership team is well integrated into the country’s tennis hierarchy, the keys to AAPITA’s success are likely found in partnering with the more established organization, not in attempting to supplant it. For example, there is a new opportunity with the recently launched partnership program USTA Connect, a digital platform leveraging data on the entire U.S. tennis population to help tennis facilities, industry software providers, industry associations, retailers and manufacturers.
Mickey Maule, the USTA's managing director of engagement and services, says USTA Connect “will enable all providers to directly market tennis more efficiently and attract specific populations across the country [and] facilitate connectivity to grow the game at all levels.”
However, inviting everyone is not the same as finding a connection that makes people feel comfortable. Five-time Grand Slam doubles champion Rajeev Ram, born in Colorado to parents of Indian origin and a member of the AAPITA board of directors, explains the importance of representation.
“[Growing up playing tennis], I was never sure if I fit in more with the Americans in tennis or the Indians and never felt fully like I belonged in either,” Ram says. “I think if AAPITA existed when I was coming up, I could have found this commonality and sense of belonging with other people/players like me and that would have been very valuable. There is no better feeling than one of belonging.”
AAPITA President Vania King, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion, was born in California to Taiwanese parents, one of whose roots on the island nation trace back 400 years and the other whose family immigrated there from mainland China during World War II. She identifies as Taiwanese-American and represented the U.S. in Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) five times.
Like Ram’s, her story is representative of many others.
“At the end of the day, I believe it is empathy that drives us toward the quest to equity,” King says. “If we connect with and celebrate others, we will champion everyone's right to fair and equal opportunity. AAPITA hopes to support the AAPI community with a multi-faceted approach: celebration, education, advocacy and community.”
With its one-year anniversary coming up, an organizational structure in place, and a well-defined vision, AAPITA expects to begin implementing programs and expanding its impact, with the US Open targeted as a likely launching pad for major announcements and outreach.
The goal is to get kids to adults in this mega-community onto the courts and into the American tennis archipelago.
As Lee defines the future, “The AAPI community is our lane [and] as much as diversity and inclusion have been expanded, we can still go further.”
Kent Oswald is a contributing editor to Racquet Sports Industry magazine.