Ashley Marshall | May 2, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com looks at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who helped shape this incredible community dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In this installment, we catch up with Helen Petersen, who has been involved in NJTL for more than four decades and still makes time to spread Arthur Ashe’s legacy to children across the country.
The Helen Petersen File
Name: Helen Petersen
NJTL Chapter: NJTL of Indianapolis, NJTL national
Role with NJTL: Former NJTL of Indianapolis president, former NJTL national chairperson
Year became active in NJTL: 1976
How did you first come to be involved with NJTL?
Barbara Wynne and I are both from Indianapolis.
She founded NJTL of Indianapolis in the early 70’s. I moved to town in ’76 and BB Wynne was one of the first people I met. That was my very first involvement in NJTL and I’ve not stopped since. In Indianapolis I served on the board for many years including president. I did many tasks from registering kids in the parks to organizing annual fundraisers and meeting with potential corporate funders. After I founded the nonprofit Hamilton County Community Tennis Association in 1990, I became more of a special events supporter for the Indianapolis NJTL.
While I was involved with the Indianapolis NJTL, I was also involved on the national level. NJTL was its own nonprofit until it merged with USTA in 1984. In the pre-USTA I attended annual conventions and served on the board of directors. Arthur (Ashe) and Sherry (Sheridan) would attend and share their vision and passion for helping kids through tennis. There was a core group of us volunteers—Chris Beck, Barbara Wynne, Skip Hartman and Donna Fales—spread across the country who attended every year and then developed our local chapters and enhanced the national programs.
The annual national conventions were in different cities. Twice the convention was in Indianapolis and I was chair both times. Another major event was the NJTL national tournament at Forest Hills. Players from different chapters came together to play an NJTL format on the clay courts. We also had a large college scholarship program and spent countless hours reviewing applications. After the merger the annual convention eventually became the USTA Community Development Workshop and the scholarship program morphed into the USTA Foundation. In the summer was the NJTL Camp, a week-long tennis camp with the top NJTL players attending from chapters across the country. For several years it was in Indiana. Barbara Wynne and I helped get local funding (Lily Endowment for one) and worked with national staff on logistics. I also chaperoned Indianapolis NJTL players to the national NJTL tournament. I also worked closely with local volunteers and national staff to host NJTL Regional Rallies, a day-long tennis competition for chapters within driving distance.
What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed? How has NJTL evolved?
NJTL chapters and participants have grown, but more importantly has been the growth of the educational opportunities provided by NJTL on the chapter and national level. The AAKD and the Essay Contest are also excellent opportunities for youngsters to learn on and off the court and to have life experiences.
How are you still involved with NJTL of Indianapolis now?
I stay involved with Indianapolis NJTL special events by supporting fundraising events and spreading the legacy of Arthur Ashe. In 2011 I created a reading program, Champion Reads, that is chapter book biographies about athletes who overcame challenges, became champions and dedicated their lives to others. They are Arthur Ashe, James Blake, Jean Driscoll, Billie Jean King, Sam McNew, Gale Sayers and George Taliaferro. I have taught Champion Reads to Indianapolis NJTL players, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs and parks and rec summer programs. But mostly I have been a guest reader in elementary classrooms.
I have read Champion Citizen: Arthur Ashe to hundreds of school children across the country. After we’ve read the book and done some educational activities they definitely know that Arthur was a champion on the court, in the classroom and a world renown humanitarian. They also know that Arthur was still helping people when he was very sick. Sharing Arthur’s legacy with the next generation is a passion of mine
What do you enjoy the most about NJTL?
The people! The pre-USTA volunteers are still involved—some for the entire 50 years. After the 1984 merger people like Judy Levering and David Dinkins became key leaders in NJTL and community tennis. All of these people are now beyond retirement age, but yet they are still hands-on involved with NJTL and mentoring children.
How proud does it make you to be a part of such an organization that can make meaningful change in the lives of children?
Watching kids discover and hone their talents is rewarding. Seeing them grow into accomplished professionals and caring adults is living proof that NJTL changes lives. I’m very proud to still be friends with the core group of NJTL volunteers from the ‘70’s. They have inspired me for nearly half a century.
What would your message be to someone who is considering making a donation to NJTL or the USTA Foundation but is still unsure about the impact it would have?
Every dollar donated is a dollar invested in a child’s life. They are our present and our future.