NJTL 50 for 50: Derrick Billups
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 NJTL alumnus Derrick Billups, who has remained part of NJTL chapter Legacy Youth Tennis & Education in Philadelphia as their Senior Director of Community Programs.
The Derrick Billups File
Name: Derrick Billups
NJTL Chapter: Legacy Youth Tennis & Education (Philadelphia)
Role with NJTL: Former participant, currently Senior Director of Community Programs
Year became active in NJTL: 1969
How did you first become involved with the NJTL?
Derrick Billups: I was nine years old and they started a tennis program in my community. I didn’t know much about tennis and didn’t know what an NJTL was, but I played every day in the summer with about 20 other kids in Fairmount Park.
How would you say that Legacy Youth Tennis & Education has evolved over the years?
Derrick Billups: I would say it’s evolved in that we’ve expanded. We’re working with kids in pretty much the same communities and still have a summer program in the same location I started in 50 years ago, but we now have 20-30 other sites as well. We’ve expanded to more locations and communities in Philadelphia, but also in the surrounding areas outside of Philly, including parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Are there any success stories that stand out to you in particular?
Derrick Billups: There are many success stories, but the key is that a lot of the coaches working with me now participated in NJTL programs growing up. They all went to college and some of them played college tennis. Some of them are now full-time employees at Legacy and others are coaches during the summer. These young men and women have evolved from campers in the program to real tennis players and are now teaching kids the same things they were taught.
Coco Gauff has a connection to Philadelphia as a former NJTL ambassador for Down the Line and Beyond. What does it mean for kids to see someone with a connection to NJTL having the success she’s had?
Derrick Billups: We don’t just teach tennis at Legacy. We teach fitness, nutrition and overall character, which all come into play when you have a person like Coco. About 65-70 percent of the kids in our program are African-American, so they see someone like her and understand that this is real. The kids see Venus and Serena, but they don’t necessarily know their story. Coco is close to the same age as them and she’s played in the community. Her current hitting coach even grew up playing in Legacy, so she’s someone they can relate to.