Ashley Marshall | May 9, 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 Marjana Bidwell, a former NJTL participant who later graduated from the United States Military Academy and currently serves in the U.S. Army.
The Marjana Bidwell File
Name: Marjana Bidwell
NJTL Chapter: 15-Love, Albany, N.Y.
Role with NJTL: Former NJTL participant
Year became active in NJTL: 1990
When did you first become involved with NJTL and how long were you involved?
I started at age 7 in 1990. Arthur Ashe was actually running clinics at Arbor Hill Elementary School three blocks from where I lived. ADVERTISEMENT My parents brought me and my sister to the clinic and that was my first exposure to tennis.
Did you have any idea about who Arthur Ashe was when you went to your first clinic?
We really had no idea. It wasn’t until a few years later when he passed away. We knew he started the program and he was the reason why I was there, but it wasn’t until we were more involved with the program and knew what he had been doing in the game of tennis. Tennis was an escape and it meant more to us because we were inner-city kids He brought that opportunity to us.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from NJTL?
The off-court topics varied from saying no to drugs to how to treat others with respect. All of those topics provided me with valuable life lessons that helped shaped the adult I am today.
[Arbor hill] was violent. You didn’t go a week without somebody being murdered or shot. We had basketball courts on the same complex, maybe 100 yards away, and there was some funky stuff going on. You could smell the marijuana. There was no care for what was going on. Tennis was truly an escape.
How has NJTL impacted your life today?
It was the first experience in serving others. It was a natural transition to become an instructor once you graduated from the 15-Love program. I've always had the desire to serve others and I pour that into my current career as an army officer.
Some donors or volunteers believed in Arthur Ashe’s dream and provided money to fund that organization. If you can change the trajectory of a kid’s life and you can have an affect on them like others had on you, why would you not? Today, as adults we still lift each other up and help others.
I met some of my best friends through the program and I’m still really good friends with every single person I became close with at the program.
Do you still play tennis?
I haven’t played since college. Unfortunately, my current occupation and my children absorb most of my time. My son turns 7 this summer and I do plan on teaching him tennis and pouring into him the lessons I learned at the same age. That is the same age I started to play tennis so I’m excited for him to learn.
What keeps or has kept you involved with NJTL and tell us about your favorite activities both on-court and off?
Giving back to where I came from has always been important to me. As long as I am breathing I will support those who took and chance and uplifted me in my critical childhood years.
The biggest way I give back is through how I live my life and by the example I set. I would hope that kids see what we’ve been able to do and see that they can reach their full potential. For a lot of people [at 15-Love], they become the first in their family to go to college. Just that achievement in itself is important. That is the impact a program like this can have. That’s what sets it apart from country club tennis. When you have people who really care, it’s very impactful.