NJTL 50 for 50: Mike Ragland
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 Mike Ragland. Ragland is a Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF) alumni, who has gone on to make tennis his career. He currently works at the director of tennis at WTEF's East Campus.
The Mike Ragland File
Name: Mike Ragland
NJTL Chapter: Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Role with NJTL: Leader and coach; past participant
Age became active in NJTL: 13
You have been in the NJTL community for a long time. First as a participant, now as director of tennis for the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation. How did being a part of the NJTL set the stage for you to make tennis into a lifelong pursuit and a career for you?
Mike Ragland: Tennis and NJTL changed my life. I was one of those kids that came up in one of the worst neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., that was doing crime. When I picked up a tennis racquet, it turned my life around tremendously, because I haven't gotten in trouble since then.
It took me away from the crime and getting into trouble and into a sport that can mold you, not only as far as getting new friends, but mold you as far as individualized self-worth. You can see what you're all about. Tennis is one of those sports that make you... it's like you're put on a court, you have to figure out how to get out of things, what to do, which shot to hit, how to hit it when they hit it... and that's the same thing I look at in life. I teach these kids here that it's the choices we make. The choices we make on the tennis court can relate to some of the choices we make in life. Sometimes we make a poor decision on a shot, and it's going to cost us. And it's the same in life, if you make a poor decision. I relate that to my kids that way.
How did your tennis career evolve after your time as an NJTL participant?
Mike Ragland: I went on from NJTL to be a good local tennis player. Played a national tournament and went onto college, got a degree. Went to Arizona and taught for 20 years at a country club. Then, they built a facility for underprivileged kids and I came back and I'm the director of tennis here with the Washington Tennis Education Foundation, doing the same thing for these kids that the program has done for me, just giving back.
How would you compare and contrast teaching at the country club to teaching with WTEF, where you are now?
Mike Ragland: At the country club, it's a different clientele. The kids are well behaved at the country club, parents have the money to pay for the kids to play tournaments and to take private lessons. Here at WTEF, these kids sometime don't even have anything to eat. These kids don't even have shoes. We buy kids shoes, socks, clothes. We feed them here and if these kids can't afford to take a private lesson, we give free lessons to the kids. It is a big difference. We work with kids that we have to discipline each and every day for different reasons. I didn't have to go through any of that at the country club that I have to go through with this program.
When did you get involved with the NJTL as a coach?
Mike Ragland: When I was 16, I started teaching as a coach in NJTL. Even though I played, they also used me a coach, So for a summer job, they would send us around to a site and we would give kids lessons that were two, three years younger than we were.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the NJTL legacy that Sheridan Snyder, Charlie Pasarell and Arthur Ashe started 50 years ago?
Mike Ragland: It's unbelievable. I met Arthur Ashe at the US Open and because we were with the NJTL chapter. He invited us back in the players' area and shook all of our hands and talked to us about playing in NJTL, which he wanted to start for us and he was happy to see that he can get more African-American players to play. That boosted us at least, what, another hundred percent of being behind tennis and to play in the NJTL. I hope the NJTL will always remain.
Pictured Above: Mike Ragland (center) with NJTL students at his WTEF facility. Photo courtesy of Mike Ragland.