NJTL 50 for 50:
Erin Maher | April 22, 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 shaped 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 Sugam Langer, who found solace, support and inspiration at the 15-Love program in Albany, N.Y., after her family immigrated from India to the United States when she was young. Langam went on to play NCAA Division I collegiate tennis and is now a practicing attorney.
The Sugam Langer File
Name: Sugam Langer
NJTL Chapter: 15-Love
Role with NJTL: Alumni, 2014 USTA Foundation Opening Night Gala special guest speaker
Year became active in NJTL: 1995
How did you first get involved with NJTL?
Sugam Langer: I remember it was during summer break, and they [15-Love] had put up flyers in the library. ADVERTISEMENT It was for free tennis lessons for inner-city kids. We lived in the inner city, and that was where we were, so they [15-Love] said show up at the courts whatever time it was, and that’s how I started.
How long were you involved with 15-Love?
Sugam Langer: Even until now, I still support the cause. When I did the 2014 US Open speech [as special guest speaker for the USTA Foundation Opening Night Gala], I was running the New York City Marathon raising money for 15-Love. I ran on behalf of 15-Love. Basically I ran to give back. So I used the New York City Marathon as a way to give back to them. I ended up playing in college at Siena College. I was Division I, and I went to the NCAA Championships, even though we lost in the first round. I went there in my junior year of college. It was this amazing experience.
I think tennis was a medium that catapulted me into a better all-around person. I still continue to believe in doing community service and giving back and working with young students. I now live in Los Angeles, and there’s another organization here called Girls on the Run, and I’m a founding board member for it in my local area. It uses running as a medium for youth.
I grew up in an inner-city type of area, where you don’t get that many opportunities, and the fact that there were the programs out there that allowed for me to learn this amazing sport and then gave me a scholarship to go to college... I received both, an academic scholarship and partial athletic. It created a world of opportunities for the friends that I made, understanding that health is real wealth, because I feel students now don’t even know that. They’re just on their cell phones all day long. It was everything. I remember we would go to tournaments together, my friends and I. We all played in the leagues together, and we’d travel to tournaments, and we played in high school, and we met so many amazing people that way.
It was absolutely the best thing I ever did. And I have a daughter now, and I can’t wait for her to get older so that I can teach her how to play tennis.
What was your favorite aspect of being a part of 15-Love and the NJTL?
Sugam Langer: I feel like it was a sense of a long-lasting community. It was one that embraced you, even if you were brand new to the game and not the best. Everyone was very encouraging, first of all, and it facilitated an environment that you wanted to come back to every single week or weekend. It was a healthy environment. Not only did you become friends with everybody, but as an alumni, you want to maintain that connection. I’m 33 years old. I haven’t been in a junior tennis league since when I graduated it at 17. But I feel this sense of commitment to this community. When I was running the marathon, the fact that I wanted to donate all of my proceeds back to this same community that I felt so strongly connected to when I was younger—I think that’s what I really gained from the experience, not just the tennis.
Tennis has been a part of my whole life. I just love the fact that it continues to evolve beyond the sport. That’s really what I think the idea and the energy of NJTL is. That’s what I really think it does. I think it uses tennis as a medium to create a community and a sense of belonging beyond the tennis court. I think that’s why you have alumni that are so committed. It became such a critical part of our lives when we were younger. We wanted to continue to provide that for future generations, but also it makes us feel good to come back to our community and to our roots and help them out any which way.
Pictured Above: Sugam Langer at the 2014 USTA Foundation Opening Night Gala, where she served as keynote speaker.