NJTL 50 for 50: Dave Higaki
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 Dave Higaki, who has served as Executive Director of NJTL chapter East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring for the last 20 years.
The Dave Higaki File
Name: Dave Higaki
NJTL Chapter: East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring (EPATT)
Role with NJTL: Executive Director of EPATT
Year became active in NJTL: 1990
How did you first become involved with the NJTL?
Dave Higaki: I was coaching on the lower ranks of the pro tour and began volunteering with the organization. I’ve served as Executive Director of EPATT for 20 years and have been involved with the organization for about 23 years. My involvement in general stems from the belief that education and tennis can really impact a community.
How has EPATT evolved over the years?
Dave Higaki: The biggest thing about EPATT is that we started as a tennis organization and have moved into a youth development organization. There is a very strong concentration on academics and academic outcomes tied to school performance, as well as a heavy-duty parent education program. Our greatest success is that we’ve made a strong push into the education and academic realm. That’s made a gigantic difference in everything we do.
One of the earliest jobs you had in tennis was a statistician. Has looking at tennis in that way had any impact on how you look at all that’s happening now with EPATT?
Dave Higaki: I think it’s always important to look at things a little bit differently. Having a statistical background makes you look at data and trends more closely, but also makes you think outside of the box and helps you understand the root causes of problems. Sometimes you might make certain assumptions, but then the data trend will show you something completely different.
The biggest thing is that it’s helped me keep an open mind and look at things a bit more critically.
Are there any particular success stories in EPATT which stand out to you?
Dave Higaki: There have been a lot of great success stories. There are kids who have gone off to college and become school teachers. We have kids who are now first responders or earned their Ph.D. There’s even a kid who currently plays in the NFL. There have been a lot of different successes, but it stems from them getting an education. Even though we want kids to get a college degree, those who haven’t went on to find their own path, whether that’s in the culinary arts or joining the U.S. Navy. Those guys have got a great career and they’re gaining skills. They’re just as much of a success story as the kids who go on to graduate school.
EPATT won NJTL Chapter of the Year in 2017. What did that mean to you and the rest of the organization?
Dave Higaki: Any time the governing body of your sport recognizes the work that you’re doing is always really special. It also shows that the USTA Foundation cares not just about the tennis outcomes, but about overall youth development.