NJTL 50 for 50:
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 12, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com is looking at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who have helped shape this incredible community that is dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In the latest installment, we catch up with Emily Schaefer (pictured above, right), NJTL program director for the Houston Tennis Association. A former member of the Princeton women's tennis team with a Top-25 NCAA singles ranking, Schaefer was honored in 2007 with the Eve Kraft USTA Community Service Award for her work in the Houston area.
The Emily Schaefer File
Name: Emily Schaefer
NJTL Chapter: Houston Tennis Association
Role with NJTL: Program Director
Year became active in NJTL: 1999
How did you first get involved with NJTL?
Emily Schaefer: I was a teaching pro right out of college, and then I was an assistant coach at Rice University for five years and ran a junior program at a large private club. The men’s coach at Rice at the time had told me about the job—that the city of Houston was hiring a director of tennis—and that’s when I applied for that. That was back in 1999.
The largest part of that job was running a youth tennis program, and so that’s kind of how I was introduced to tennis in the public parks and the youth tennis programs offered there, and all of the elements of NJTL.
How have your programs progressed through the years?
Emily Schaefer: We’ve continued to expand our program. We did benefit from an NJTL urban strategy grant back in 2000, which was a three-year grant offered through the USTA. So at that point, we were able to expand our summer program to 36 or more sites for eight weeks during the summer. So we really expanded our programming over the last 20 years.
What went into your selection for the Eve Kraft USTA Community Service Award in 2007?
Emily Schaefer: What was cool for me is that Eve Kraft was from Princeton, which is where I went to college. She was really active when the USTA established a headquarters there, and so they named the community service tennis award after her because she did a lot of outreach on the court she had in her neighborhood. I think it was even at her house.
The award came about because of our efforts to spread tennis to all different communities. And I also worked with Special Olympics, wheelchair tennis and just a variety of outreach programs. We even have done outreach to seniors, and really any underserved populations. We also participate in Hispanic health fairs a lot to try and increase the awareness in that community of fitness, especially fun things you can do for fitness with the family. And tennis fits really well into that.
What does it mean to you to be a part of NJTL’s history, which now spans back 50 years to its origins with Arthur Ashe, among others?
Emily Schaefer: Many people in the tennis world understand what tennis has meant to them—how it has influenced their life, how it has helped them achieve goals, make friends and unwrap different opportunities. Arthur Ashe did a tremendous job of structuring that, all of the things that tennis can bring. NJTL promotes all of those things, and in a way, that can actually reach everyone.
It’s not just the super-competitive, ranked player, or the one that is only going to play once or twice. It’s for a kid who gets involved with NJTL; it really has an opportunity to positively impact their life. Not only for the time that they’re taking the classes or the group sessions that they’re doing, the tennis and education during the time they’re a student, but beyond that, whether it’s through the scholarships that they may get, or as an alumni when they start to try to give back.
I just think that it’s tremendous the way that NJTL impacts the life of an individual, using tennis as that first tool. We all hope the NJTL is going to be around for another 50 years, and well beyond that.
Pictured above: Schaefer with NJTL alum Courtney Manning (center) and her aunt, Esther (left), at Texas Christian University's Convocation of Academic Excellence, where Manning was named a 2019 Ronald E. McNair scholar.