NJTL 50 for 50:
Craig Ellenport | July 1, 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 Dominic Fanelli, an alumnus of the NJTL of Indianapolis, who is now in New York and is the principal of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem.
The Dominic Fanelli File
Name: Dominic Fanelli
NJTL Chapter: NJTL of Indianapolis
Role with NJTL: former participant
Year became active in NJTL: 1998
When did you first become involved with NJTL and how long were you involved?
Dominic Fanelli: I was going into fourth grade. I grew up on the south side of Indianapolis. ADVERTISEMENT Perry Parks had an NJTL site. The kindergarten teacher at my school, her and her daughter were big tennis players, and her daughter was one of the main people that would lead the NJTL program. They got a bunch of other high school tennis players from around the area.
Did you have any idea about who Arthur Ashe was when you went to your first clinic?
Dominic Fanelli: No, absolutely not. I had no idea who Arthur Ashe was. I didn’t know what Queens was, what Flushing Meadows was, the US Open. I didn’t know any of that stuff. But they would always do an essay contest—we’d write an essay about Arthur Ashe, learn about how he was the Jackie Robinson of tennis, what an incredible man he was, and how much he cared about kids, too. It left an indelible mark on me as a kid.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from NJTL?
Dominic Fanelli: I just remember joyous summers of play. I just remember playing, and joy. I kind of remember winning and losing, but moreso just playing, and the joy of sport. It’s something that was so special to me. The joy of playing, the joy of being outside and competing just for the sake of competing. The social activity, where you can be outside, that’s a lifelong gift.
One of the reasons I got into tennis is that my grandmother played tennis every day until she was 85. Her whole life, she would go to the tennis court every day. My grandmother was a wonderful tennis player, too. She was very talented. That gift of being able to play for your whole life and enjoy competing and just enjoy playing is a great lesson I got from NJTL.
How has NJTL impacted your life today?
Dominic Fanelli: You looked up to those instructors in a big way. They were cool, but they were also just giving us so much joy and direction. They were so sure of themselves. And I remember as I got older, I played a lot of different sports. But as I got older, I thought back to NJTL and my coaches, and giving back through coaching was something that, one, it’s an inherently good thing to do, but two, selfishly, I really enjoyed working with the kids in the same way that my instructors enjoyed working with me. Remembering how they made me feel is something that I can hope to do for the kids that I work with today in my role as a principal. Certainly the NJTL instructors and their model was something that I followed in figuring out what I wanted to do in my life.
Do you still play tennis?
Dominic Fanelli: We got back into it two summers ago. Somebody had a couple of tennis racquets, and we started hitting it around. Most people are hitting a pretty basic volley, not even an overhand serve. And I was able to get the continental grip out and get pretty good topspin to my forehand. And they were like, ‘Fanelli, how did you do that?’ I grew up playing tennis. I really enjoyed making a good forehand, so I was like, 'Let’s keep this going. This was fun, I miss this.'