NJTL 50 for 50:
Arthur Kapetanakis | June 5, 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 Jeri Ingram, a former WTA professional and top-ranked junior who has gone on to found the Metropolitan Tennis and Education Group (MTEG). Through the NJTL, which serves youth in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Ingram sparks her students with the same inspiration she got from being an NJTL participant as a child.
After participating in NJTL—and meeting Arthur Ashe—Ingram started her own tennis program in 2009. MTEG officially became a non-profit NJTL program in 2015.ADVERTISEMENT
The Jeri Ingram File
Name: Jeri Ingram
NJTL Chapter: Metropolitan Tennis & Education Group (Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia)
Role with NJTL: Executive Director and Coach
Year became active in NJTL: 1979
How did you first become involved in NJTL?
Jeri Ingram: My first connection with NJTL started when I was about 8 years old. I was a part of an NJTL in Washington, D.C., when I first started playing tennis.
Actually through that experience, I played what was the Congoleum National Tournament in New York, where I ended up coming in third place. This was when Arthur Ashe was still alive, and he presented me with a trophy, along with my mixed doubles partner. It was a 10-and-under event. That experience kind of got me hooked on tennis as a junior.
So that’s my first experience and then later in life, after playing junior tennis, college tennis and professional tennis, and graduating from college, I started my own NJTL, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade.
We work with the USTA Foundation on a number of services under the NJTL umbrella.
How did meeting Arthur Ashe inspire you, and were you able to keep in touch with him throughout your career and life?
Jeri Ingram: At the time of the tournament, they sponsored you to come and they outfitted you. For me, just having begun to play tennis—maybe I had only been playing for a year—it was just a huge experience. I remember wanting to be successful so I could continue to have those types of experiences.
Arthur was very engaging. I ended up going on to play national tournaments and I was ranked No. 1 in the nation in doubles and No. 6 in singles, and he would coach me at times, not on a consistent basis, but through national events. He became good friends with my father, and they consistently talked on the phone about my direction and my career. We definitely have a connection through our families as well.
After starting out at a schools program and then working with the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Southeast Tennis & Learning Center NJTL, what made you want to branch out and start on your own program?
Jeri Ingram: Through the relationships that I built in the USTA Foundation and just across the mid-Atlantic region, I just felt like their ideas and my experience—the combination was more of the vision that I wanted to work on with the players and the families.
Being in government and the school system was kind of restrictive. So having your own non-profit allows you to do more for the kids.
How has the Metropolitan Tennis & Education Group (MTEG) evolved since you started the program in 2009, and became an NJTL in 2015?
Jeri Ingram: Our growth has been great because we were able to reach more people across the mid-Atlantic. We are in three different states—Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia—so we’re able to go into different areas based on our own decision-making and not restricted to one city or one school or one park. We can expand at a faster rate.
You also have Team DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), your high-performance team. What is involved with that team?
Jeri Ingram: That’s also a project that we partner with the USTA Foundation for—we’re one of their excellence teams. That’s really our competitive group and our travel team. Out of the over 200 players that we have in our program, 40 of them are on a team, where they have competitive and education standards that they have to consistently meet, and we train them on a consistent basis.
We play team matches against other excellence teams and we also take those players to the Orange Bowl, the Clay Court Championships and the National Championships through that program. And that is also in partnership with Player Development.
I know you are also involved with Chase’s “Return the Serve” program. What is that event like?
Jeri Ingram: This will be our fourth year with Chase Return the Serve. That’s a huge play day that we do. This year it’s going to be on July 12, and we invite all these nearby NJTLs to participate.
For three hours, we have all levels of tennis and we provide meals and music. We do an education enrichment and fitness with all the kids combined. In our area, we typically invite the Citi Open mascot and staff out, and the Washington Castles come out, too. It’s just a really fun day.
I think there’s 10 other cities that do it at the exact same time on the same day, and it’s sponsored by Chase and the USTA Foundation. It’s just a joint effort to kick off the simmer and also moving towards the US Open.
How does your playing career help you in your current role as a program director, educator and coach?
Jeri Ingram: It definitely planted the initial seed. I feel as though every day, it just gave me the awesome responsibility to give back to players who need support, the way that I needed support.
Tennis can be expensive and at that time I literally started playing in jeans. It wasn’t until I did a full summer camp that I actually really got tennis clothes. And I just know that the type of support and helping kids with tennis and education, and working them through the process, is so important for their success. I feel like that’s the responsibility that I have through my life—to give back to those kids.
Having known Arthur Ashe, what does it mean to you to be a part of the NJTL’s history, which dates back to its origins in 1968 through Arthur, Sheridan Snyder and Charlie Pasarell?
Jeri Ingram: I always say that I feel as though Arthur would be so proud of what the foundation is doing. He had an extraordinary vision and he was and is a great man, but I think that the foundation is exceeding many expectations and desires that he would have wanted. And for me to be a part of it, and to be able to continue the legacy that he started, is really an honor. I’m so glad to be a part of it.
My proudest moments come when I see these kids getting their college scholarships, not only because of their tennis, but because of their grades. And I see them understanding why both are important and actually taking hold of it and taking ownership of it and creating a life with it.
I just think that Arthur… his ideology and his vision and his mission is a true success through the foundation.
Pictured above: Jeri Ingram (left) and the Metropolitan Tennis & Education Group's Team DMV at the 14-and-under USTA JTT National Championships.