Hispanic Heritage Month NJTL Spotlight: New HYTEs
It's National Hispanic Heritage Month, and to celebrate, USTA.com is honoring players and administrators of Hispanic heritage who are making a mark on the game of tennis. In this edition, we spotlight Mavi Sanchez-Skakle, the Executive Director of the New HYTEs NJTL chapter in New Haven, Conn., who came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 14 and has made tennis the center of her life since then.
Tennis has always been a family affair for Mavi Sanchez-Skakle ever since she immigrated to the United States from Sinaloa, Mexico at the age of 14 with her parents and sister.
And for the past six years as the executive director of New HYTEs, a National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter that provides tennis and education programming for under-resourced communities in New Haven, Conn., she’s been paying this love of the game forward.
"The sport provided us with a wonderful way to begin our new life in our new culture," she said. "My father, in his youth, he moved to the U.S. about the age of 20, 21 and he arrived here with only $2 in his pocket. I'm very proud to say that, because my parents are pretty amazing.
"He completed his education in the U.S. and for all of his professional life, he's worked in international business as a director of sales and business development. His influence has been quite present in my life in terms of both tennis and education. My mother is ultimate matriarch as a Mexican mom... and the sport of tennis provided us the opportunity to continue to have our family life after a long day of school and work.
"It's been present since. It's been present in my life, my love life, my marriage, my son and my friends. My entire professional life has revolved somehow, either because of the sport of tennis or through tennis. I wish I knew when I was 14 what a catalyst it would be for me... and that I'd be passing it on to the youth in New Haven. My life revolves around New HYTEs right now."
Named Executive Director of New HYTEs, founded in partnership with the Yale University tennis program in 2008, in the fall of 2014, Sanchez-Skakle has helped the chapter expand in both its reach and offerings in service to the students of New Haven. What began as a program with 10 students on one after-school bus has grown into a thriving chapter that touches hundreds of students each year in both year-round and in-school programming.
Since joining the organization, Sanchez-Skakle has helped this growth in a variety of ways. This includes tripling the amount of schools which offer New HYTEs' flagship after-school program, called TEaM (Tennis, Education, and Mentoring) and also expanding it into full-day summer program that includes academic services; civic engagement; team and character-building exercises; and health, nutrition and wellness activities.
In addition, beginning in 2016, she helped establish the New HYTEs HYPED program, which brings tennis into physical education classes at local elementary schools. This program reaches nearly 300 students from predominantly Hispanic communities each year.
Off the court, Sanchez-Skakle recently completed the USTA Foundation’s inaugural Capacity Building Program, an organizational development course offered to help chapter leaders build meaningful organizations for the long-term. New HYTEs was one of 30 NJTLs selected to participate in this three-year training and consulting program which helps these chapters grow in their fundraising, budgeting, operations and board development efforts.
It is this two-sided growth and development that Sanchez-Skakle hopes will serve the NJTL well in its mission in the future, particularly in the area's Spanish-speaking communities.
"From my perspective, since my world is youth development, it comes down to having a greater footprint in the school system in all the Latino communities throughout the country," she said.
"If we cannot introduce our youth to the sport early, we're competing with others later on. If we can give that choice to all of our young students, and say, 'Look, this is an amazing sport, and we can provide you access,' to a sport that can be expensive here in the Northeast especially when it comes to things like indoor court time, if we can find a way to give that access to low-income communities, it can be a game-changer. I really think that it comes down to that.
"As an NJTL, also sharing with our parents what we can do when it comes to providing tennis and education, that has been very well-received by our parents."
A member of the USTA's NJTL National Committee, Sanchez-Skakle has also served as USTA New England's Vice Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and on the board for USTA Connecticut. Her husband, former ATP pro Cliff Skakle, assists as a coach at New HYTEs, and Alex Dorato, Cary Leeds Head Coach of Men's Tennis at Yale, and Anne Worcester, former WTA CEO and tournament director at the Connecticut Open, are among those on the NJTL's board.
As she continues to build her chosen family in tennis to serve others, Sanchez-Skakle hopes that the NJTL's influence will continue to inspire its student-athletes to word hard, strive for excellence and, well, reach new heights.
“In our Latino culture especially, everything we do is so family-oriented," she said. "It’s all about us being a unit, all together in the family. I loved when I was a child playing tennis just for fun with my parents, and I have great memories of doing this as a family with my dad, my mom and my sister. I think that’s what we need to do in our communities.
“We need to invite parents and kids to our events, to the court, to show them that this is a family sport, that it’s really fun. We need to make it not complicated. This is not the part that has to do with competition. This is the part that has to do with family unity, wellness, having a great time with everyone together. That’s really what we need to do when we present it to our families.”
Photos courtesy of Mavi Sanchez-Skakle.