In their own words: Jessie Daw on Pride Month

Compiled by Peter Francesconi | June 30, 2022

I started playing tennis around age 9. In my second year of the 14s, I qualified for the USTA Nationals, and in 1983, when I was in the 18s, I reached my highest national rankings—No. 103 in singles and No. 20 in doubles. 


I played tennis at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and after college, I was the assistant men’s and women’s coach at the University of Idaho while pursuing a master’s degree in sport psychology, where my thesis examined the impact of a season-long psychological skills training program for college tennis players. I then had a year as a club pro in the Minneapolis area, before taking over the women’s head coaching position at Illinois State University. 


While doing my master’s research, I realized that many of the mental challenges that players faced were a result of how they viewed the role of sport in their lives, and I developed a strong interest in the structure of youth sport. I entered UIUC’s doctoral program in Kinesiology, to study sport psychology, cultural studies, and youth development. After completing my Ph.D., I took an academic position in my home state of South Dakota, working in higher ed for about 15 years (Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D.). During that time, I also coached the women’s tennis team for five years when it was reinstated as a Title IX initiative.

I started working with middle school and high school kids in the summer, as well as volunteering for USTA Northern. I was a member of the CTA/NJTL committee for about 10 years, chaired Northern’s D&I Committee, and also joined the USTA Northern board, serving four terms (wrapping up in 2020). Currently, at the section level, I serve on the junior competition committee.


Nationally, I’m in my third term on the Local Play & Competition Committee, where this term I lead the Junior Circuit project team. I am currently a member of the ADM PlayTracker group, as well as helping with various Net Generation regulations development.


As a USTA volunteer, I really enjoy the opportunities I’ve had to provide input into the structure and framework of youth tennis. I’m able to use my academic interests and background to help maximize the youth sports experience for all kids and to help them learn to love and appreciate tennis—with the goal of becoming lifelong players.


[Editor’s note: In 2018, Daw was inducted into the South Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame and named PTR’s South Dakota Member of Year. Among her other honors and awards are the 2009 USTA/ITA Community Outreach Award; the 2009 Honor Award for the Central District of the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Recreation and Dance; the 2011 Pathfinder Award for the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport; and the 2014 USTA Northern Wolfenson/Ratner Community Service Award.]


I also am pleased and proud that the USTA has always been inclusive—and in doing so, the organization has also been bold in sharing its position. I truly appreciate that support and visibility. Attending Pride Month festivals and parades reminds me of the wonderful diversity that exists in our society, and that by being open and accepting people for who they are, we can have better communities overall. This year, I saw more parents with kids taking part in Pride celebrations, and that made me smile.

I didn’t come out until I was out of college. Although I knew I was not your “typical” girl for pretty much my whole life, I was just so unaware. I also didn’t have the typical coming-out story, which generally involves falling in love with another woman. I came out after reading a book! About 20 years ago I met the love of my life, and we’ve been married now for nearly five years.


I’m now semi-retired, living in Vermillion, S.D. I work part-time as a project manager for an online learning company,, am an adjunct faculty member at the University of South Dakota, and do contract work for GSK pharmaceuticals, serving on their Oncology Patient Council. I also serve as a patient advocate for myeloma; specifically, I am a Myeloma Mentor for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a Myeloma Coach for HealthTree Foundation, and a local support group leader for the International Myeloma Foundation.


In both tennis and in life, I think it’s fair to say that I love to serve. I’ve been thrilled that I’ve been able to help youngsters and adults in my community and nationally enjoy and thrive in this sport and beyond.

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