NJTL 50 for 50:
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 8, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com is looking at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who have helped shape this incredible community that is dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In the latest installment, we catch up with Bert Cole, director of junior recreation for the Dallas Tennis & Education Academy, the NJTL chapter of the Dallas Tennis Association. Fifty years after Arthur Ashe, Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder founded NJTL, she continues to serve their intentions for the program by developing character through tennis.
The Bert Cole File
Name: Bert Cole
NJTL Chapter: Dallas Tennis & Education Academy, Dallas Tennis Association
Role with NJTL: Director of Junior Recreation
Year became active in NJTL: 2002
How did you first get involved with NJTL?
Bert Cole: I started 17 years ago with the Dallas Tennis Association. ADVERTISEMENT At the time I was teaching privately in Arlington, Texas, where I lived. I was over at the courts with one of the pros who was running the tennis center at the time, and he was talking to me about getting involved in this program that he had. And I needed to get away from my “luxurious site,” he kept saying, to reality in Dallas. So I said I’d think about it.
Finally he talked me into doing it. Actually, when I first started doing it, I didn’t even know it was the Dallas Tennis Association (DTA). He just said he would like me to get involved in some classes.
I did that one class for him, and then Orlando Temple, who was actually working for the DTA, came over one day while I was on the court to introduce himself and said, “You know, you’ve been highly recommended, and I really need to have a woman on staff.” At the time there were no women on the teaching staff; it was all male. And so I said, "Let me think about it."
He invited me over to Samuell-Grand Tennis Center. I walked out, and I saw all these kids of different colors out there, and I said, “Wow, this is so cool.” My classes were private in Arlington, and there was one minority kid in that whole entire program that I was running. It was a paid, for-profit program. So there were just no kids that looked like me out there, but it was great to see kids of all different cultures out there on the court, learning how to play tennis. I just fell in love with it that moment. He asked me to come on staff, and I agreed.
How has your role progressed through the years?
Bert Cole: It’s changed drastically. I’m still the director of junior recreation, so I run all the junior programs. The program is broken into different, smaller programs. We have after-school programs, we have junior development programs, and then we have junior competitive programs, and our excellence team is part of that program.
In my role as junior recreation director, I also work with Region 10 in Texas, with the Independent School Districts. So I actually interact with those PE teachers all the time, as well. I do assemblies for them and set up in-services for them. Pretty much anything that we’re doing tennis-wise.
And then with the city of Dallas, I do a lot of their major events. Pretty much everything they do. We work with Dallas PAL [Police Athletic League], as well. So we interact with the city, with the mayor’s MyFi [Mayor’s Youth Fitness Initiative]. The Parks and Recreation Department, we have a 30-plus year relationship with them. So we do their rec tennis in the summertime with our NJTL programs, which is why I have so many sites, 60-plus sites in the summer.
We also now have three new special-needs programs. I run one of them and volunteer and work another one. I set them all up and made sure that they all got up off the ground.
Even our Net Gen workshops, coordinating with PTR. I do it all.
Are there any particular success stories that stand out over your time with the Dallas Tennis & Education Academy?
Bert Cole: The one thing I’m most proud of is that, in the 17 years I’ve been running it, we’ve had 100 percent of our members graduate high school and go on to college.
What does it mean to you to be a part of NJTL’s history, which now spans back 50 years to its origins with Arthur Ashe, among others?
Bert Cole: I have three heroes, I call them. People that I really connected with.
I love Arthur. I love what he intended for this program, and it is my life goal to make sure that I don’t fall short in that area. All the things that I think that he envisioned, from reading his books and knowing about him and his character from people speaking about him—it's that these kids are given the opportunity to play a sport that they would otherwise not really be able to.
But also that they learn and they understand the importance of education and, mostly, the character. So that’s really important, and that makes me feel very good to know that I’m going to keep that going for as long as I’m working in this program.
My other two heroes are Skip Hartman and Barbara Wynne. I know them both extremely well. Skip has been my mentor, and Barbara and I have become very close friends. I just admire them and their work.
I did meet [NJTL founders] Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder. To me, that was everything.