NJTL 50 for 50:
McCarton Ackerman | August 22, 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 David Schumacher, who founded New Orleans-based NJTL chapter A’s & Aces and made it one of the most celebrated youth programs in the country.
The David Schumacher File
Name: David Schumacher
NJTL Chapter: A’s & Aces (New Orleans)
Role with NJTL: Executive Director and Co-Founder
Year became active in NJTL: 2009
How did you first become involved with NJTL?
David Schumacher: At first, we were not sure if it was a good fit because (we thought) “NJTL” then stood for National Junior Tennis & League and we were not ready to participate in league tennis. ADVERTISEMENT When we learned that NJTL was not about league tennis and that there was an educational component, it seemed like a perfect fit for what our guiding principles were.
A’s & Aces became heavily involved with the NJTL network, learning from other chapters and being mentored by the USTA Foundation. We greatly enjoyed the collaborative environment and connecting with amazing people trying to do the same thing in so many places across the country.
How has A’s and Aces grown since you founded it in 2008?
David Schumacher: When we started in 2008, we had no staff, just volunteers. We also had no courts as there still were none available after Hurricane Katrina. Having seen red ball tennis in Germany a few years earlier, we used it to begin programming with 1st- to 3rd-grade students on school playgrounds, gyms, and even a cafeteria. We have painted multiple 36-foot courts on many schoolyards.
As many wanted to continue, we were able to develop a partnership with Dillard University and the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) to provide orange ball opportunities, followed by green and yellow ball opportunities. The tennis teams at Dillard University were disbanded following Hurricane Katrina and the HBCU welcomed us to use their six tennis courts and classroom for after school and summer programming.
We have been on the campus since, while also partnering with NORD to use its tennis centers for additional weekend and summer camps for younger players. These and other partnerships have enabled our growth and expansion from a few volunteers and a small group of kids during our pilot clinic in the spring of 2008 to serving over 900 children through year-round programming with full and part-time staff, hosting five USTA-sanctioned tournaments annually, traveling with our Excellence Team and having certified coaches.
All of this has been more than we could imagine in 2008, but it’s not enough. We are seeking a long-term home for A’s & Aces – a tennis and learning center that will serve as a hub for programming and operations while advancing our organizational sustainability. This is our main goal now that we’ve finished the first decade and started a new one.
What did it mean to you when A’s & Aces was named by the USTA as Chapter of the Year for 2012-2013?
David Schumacher: It was the greatest honor for A’s & Aces! We felt incredibly encouraged about our work and impact in the community. It made us excited about growing and serving more children.
Are there any particular success stories with A’s & Aces that stand out for you?
David Schumacher: There are many. Having an NJTL Essay contestant win a trip to a pro tournament each year since 2011 has been very motivational for our student-athletes, teachers, coaches and staff. This year, we have our first national winner. We consider having our first 2018-19 high school graduate become a recipient of a prestigious academic scholarship to Vanderbilt University, having players competing at sectional level tournaments and introducing hundreds of kids to tennis each year as being great success stories. Perhaps the most rewarding stories are hearing so many kids say, “I want to come back. I love tennis!”
What do you enjoy most about NJTL?
David Schumacher: On a personal level, working individually with the kids and seeing their growth in the classroom and on the courts. On an organizational level, the collaboration, networking, mentoring and support at many levels – from capacity development to training for coaches, and so much more. It feels like being part of a community that supports each other. Every USTA Foundation conference or training we attended always made us extremely energized and excited about our next steps.