NJTL 50 for 50:
Craig Ellenport | July 11, 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 Toni Wiley, executive director of Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center in Dorcester, Mass. Sportsmen’s was founded in 1961 and eventually became the first indoor non-profit tennis club built by and for the African American community. Wiley, who has been involved with Sportsmen’s since 2008, also serves on the board of directors for USTA New England.
The Toni Wiley File
Name: Toni Wiley
NJTL Chapter: Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center (Dorcester, Mass.)ADVERTISEMENT
Role with NJTL: Executive Director
Year became active in NJTL: 2008
Sportsmen’s had already been around for quite a while before you joined the organization. What can you tell us about its history?
Toni Wiley: In 1961, there was a group of friends playing in a local park and they wanted to be able to give kids the benefit of tennis, because it’s not a sport that was typically played in the urban environment. They were looking to create a facility where kids could play year-round and have high-quality tennis lessons, and so they moved up to this area in the late ‘60s and broke ground on this building and completed the building in the early ‘70s. From the very beginning, the educational portion was a big part of the mission, so they wanted to make sure that kids got to experience all that tennis had to offer, and hopefully would be able to get college scholarships along with that. So they wanted to make sure they were academically prepared. We’ve gone on to add social/emotional wellness as well as physical and mental health. So it’s really just been huge to see how the organization has grown over the years.
How did you first get involved with NJTL?
Toni Wiley: I used to have a nonprofit consulting practice, and I came in at a time when Sportsmen’s was in financial distress. I came on as a consultant, then a board member, then became executive director in 2008. So I’ve now been here 11 years.
What has kept you involved with NJTL?
Toni Wiley: Really, it’s been the mission. That’s what caused me to get involved from the very beginning, and certainly to stay involved. The closer I got to the organization and could see not only what they were accomplishing but also what the potential was, it just made me really want to stay and be a part of what was happening here.
What do you enjoy most about it?
Toni Wiley: Getting to watch the kids grow up in front of us. Now that I’ve been here 11 years, I can see kids who were in elementary school when I got here that are now heading off to college. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of our kids graduate from college. Some of them on scholarships that they earned, either because of their tennis or with our assistance with academics and other purposes. So it really has been like watching my own kids grow up here at the club.
How has NJTL affected your life?
Toni Wiley: It’s been nice to work in my community. I grew up in this neighborhood and I had worked in the corporate sector for quite some time and then when I transitioned to the nonprofit sector, I was still working a little bit outside of the Dorcester neighborhood where I grew up. I never played here as a kid. I didn’t play tennis growing up, but I grew up down the street. I could see the facility from my front porch growing up. Now being able to work here and direct the efforts and work with so many kids is such a gratifying thing.
How has Sportsmen’s grown through the years and why is it so important?
Toni Wiley: We’ve grown in every direction possible. We’ve extended the pipeline of our program. We now have toddler tennis right through a high-performance academy. So growth is at both ends of the spectrum. We have a high school tennis program that used to be open to just a couple of schools but is now open to any child in the area who is playing or wants to try to play on their high school tennis team. We have an Excellence Program which obviously is new to us. We had a developmental team in the first year it began and now have 16 kids that are on this Excellence Team that get to travel and have additional assistance with their competitive play. We have a partnership with the Boston police that has been going for 10 years now that has impacted thousands of lives and has changed the way that many police officers here have interacted with kids. We partner with the Boston public school system—we bring tennis into 10 or 12 schools every year. We have an academic program here during the school year and during the summer that impacts hundreds of kids in their academic pursuit. We’ve had a lot of growth in the past 11-12 years. Sportsmen’s has been around for 50-plus years, so it’s really exciting just to keep the organization going.