NJTL 50 for 50:
McCarton Ackerman | August 17, 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 recent NJTL alumnus Brenda Gilmore, who co-founded NJTL chapter Prince George’s Tennis & Education Foundation (PGTEF) in Prince George’s County, Md., and continues to play a primary role in its success.
The Brenda Gilmore File
Name: Brenda Gilmore
NJTL Chapter: Prince George’s Tennis & Education Foundation (Maryland)
Role with NJTL: President & Co-Founder
Year became active in NJTL: 1993
How did you first get involved in NJTL?
Brenda Gilmore: I used to work for USTA/Mid-Atlantic from 1990-2000. ADVERTISEMENT I was their school program director, so part of my job was getting schools on board to include tennis in their physical education classes or after-school programs. That was how I first learned about the NJTL.
I had helped start so many NJTLs after a few years, but realized that I didn’t have one in my neighborhood. In 1993, I worked with some tennis enthusiasts to start Prince George’s County and it’s been going ever since. I have a board of directors, but have basically been running this on my own. A few of the initial seven people who helped start it have unfortunately passed away and others have moved on to other things.
What are some of the things you enjoy most about running an NJTL chapter?
Brenda Gilmore: Firstly, I love tennis. I love watching kids playing tennis, and especially kids of color since we’re in a predominantly African-American community. I love watching these kids grow up and play for their high school teams or team tennis. I enjoy watching their growth with the coaches and seeing them go to college with either a tennis or academic scholarship.
A number of people who grew up in my program are now married and have put their kids into it. It’s gone full circle. Seeing them grow from early childhood to adulthood and become responsible, productive citizens has been the most gratifying experience for me.
How has the program evolved over the years?
Brenda Gilmore: We only had a dozen kids when we started, but have evolved into a year-round program. The kids have been following the USTA pathway of starting out recreationally, then playing in leagues and tournaments to get your ranking up and be seen by college coaches.
It’s been more of an uphill battle recently because there are so many opportunities for kids now, but we’re still thriving and surviving. We’re doing well.
Are there any success stories that stand out for you in particular?
Brenda Gilmore: There are so many. I have two young ladies who went to the U.S. Naval Academy, one who is currently there and another who played tennis for them before graduating. She’s now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I have another young lady who went to Howard University, then went on to the University of Maryland School of Law. She passed the bar on the first attempt and now works for health and community services.
I have a young man who played for Howard University and just opened up his own dental office in Washington, D.C. There are a couple of people working on their Ph.D. and one who earned theirs. There are two twins who were co-valedictorians in their high school and are currently at the University of Maryland.
There’s also a young man who had some challenges in high school but went on to barber school and I see him at the local barber shop. Not everyone is going to be a doctor or a lawyer, but they’re solid citizens and that’s what’s important to me.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years in NJTL?
Brenda Gilmore: I think the support materials that are provided have expanded tremendously, especially for people in the education and enrichment components. There’s also more training, but the USTA has always been great about training volunteers and people who implement their programs. A number of my students have also received college scholarships that the USTA now offers.