NJTL 50 for 50:
Erin Maher | April 10, 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 NJTL alumni and former staff member William Elmore, whose involvement in two NJTLs on opposite coasts shaped his life and, despite hitting tough times, gave him incredible opportunities, including playing NCAA Division I tennis at Villanova University. Now, he serves on the NJTL national board, continuing to give back to the game that has given him so much.
The William Elmore File
Name: William Elmore
NJTL Chapter: Legacy Youth Tennis and Education in Philadelphia, Inspiring Children’s Foundation in Las Vegas
Role with NJTL: Alumni, former staff and NJTL national board member
Year became active in NJTL: 2007
How did you get involved with NJTL?
William Elmore: I started playing tennis when I was about 10. My dad was a three-sport athlete at West Virginia, and he stopped going after he tore his meniscus and wasn’t able to keep his scholarship. That was a prevalent theme when I was growing up: I couldn’t play contact sports. I could play either tennis or golf, so I played both for a period. I had to pick one, so I chose tennis, and I actually started in one of the public parks programs in Philadelphia because that’s where we were living at the time.
My team got to the city playoffs, and one of the coaches at Legacy Youth Tennis and Education NJTL—at the time it was the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Facility—saw me and took an interest and started working with me for free. He thought that I had talent or potential. This gentleman, Alan Blackwell, was my first and only coach up until his passing about three years ago. He was an incredible guy and started my life on this kind of path.
So I played at the Legacy NTJL for about three years. When I was 15, the economy obviously tanked around 2011. My dad lost his business, my family lost everything. We had about two weeks to relocate, and we moved from Philadelphia to Las Vegas because my uncle worked in one of the casinos out there. Lance Lee, who was director of Legacy at the time, knew of the Inspiring Children's Foundation (ICF) NJTL in Las Vegas and called up the executive director at the time, Ryan Wolfington, and said, "Hey, we got this kid; he wants to play tennis." So Ryan said, "Bring him out here, we’ll give him a shot." And the rest is kind of history.
I came out there and started playing just in a totally athletic capacity, and they had leadership programs and all of these other things that I didn’t really know about. They were there, they were tertiary, and they were in my periphery, but I wasn’t really a part of them for about the first year. But eventually I became part of the leadership program. I graduated high school in 2013. I wasn’t really where I wanted to be with my tennis. My GPA wasn’t where it probably should have been because, when we moved out to Vegas, things got a bit dicey. I ended up homeless, slept on a tennis court for three months, and because of that, my grades suffered. I was doing a virtual charter school at the time, and it’s difficult to do your school work when it’s all on the computer and you don’t have a computer. So I graduated in 2013 by the grace of something out there. Like I said, my grades weren’t where they needed to be, my tennis wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so I took a post-graduate year to kind of grow and find myself.
I interned with the Inspiring Children Foundation out there in Vegas. I helped with their fundraising because their finances were in dire straits. So myself and a group of three other interns raised over $200,000 to kind of keep the lights on for the organization. During that time, I was applying to schools. I got accepted to Villanova University, and I played four years of tennis there. Was a major in international business and management, double major. Double minor in Chinese and East Asian studies. Tennis has been the vehicle for just about everything in my life.
I went to Shanghai for three months, did a marketing internship out there. It was because of tennis I was put in touch with the right professors and that I was able to find out about the right scholarships I needed to apply for to make that trip possible. Finished up university in May of 2018, came back to ICF as its developmental director. I was handling its database management, fundraising, donor relations and things like that.
In December, I transitioned into sales and marketing for MGM Resorts International, and tennis still plays a huge part of my life. A lot of my clients play, and being able to go out there and not only hold my own, but, in being a past D-I college tennis player, I’m able to show them some things.
Tennis is the great equalizer in my life. A lot of people think of tennis as this wildly affluent sport. It was never that for me. Most of the people that I played in tournaments didn’t look like me, didn’t have the background that I did. But like I said, it’s the great equalizer. There’s no difference when you walk out there.
What was your favorite aspect in being part of NJTL?
William Elmore: The camaraderie. Tennis has the ability to be very isolating. When you’re traveling to sectionals, nationals, any sort of junior tournament, it’s you and your parent, or you and your coach, and it’s you versus 64, or you versus 63 or you versus 150 other kids doing the same thing. Being a part of the NJTL and traveling for tournament trips and being in a training facility, where everyone is striving for the same goal, you’re at the tournament, you want to beat the other guy. But having that team and having that camaraderie was something that made college tennis a lot easier because I saw a lot of people who kind of came from that solo mentality, coming into college tennis and kind of having a tough time with it because you are playing for a team.
Both of my NJTL’s had a huge emphasis on community service, and ICF has a massive focus on project-driven learning. So when I was 16 through 18, I was put into a lot of projects that people wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to experience before university. I helped run the BNP Paribas Open trip, so we brought 350 kids, parents and coaches from Vegas out to Indian Wells. I had to help charter the buses, arrange the tickets, set up hotel rooms, so that kind of event planning and event management. It gave me a lot of personal autonomy and confidence to know that I’m capable of doing things like this, even though at that same time, I was homeless and bouncing around. It gave me a sense of capability and just kind of a purpose when things were pretty tough.
What was the greatest lesson that you learned from the NJTL?
William Elmore: The importance of both emotional intelligence and mentoring. I had unbelievable mentors at both of my NJTLs: Lance Lee, Kein Wilson at Legacy, and Ryan Wolfington and Trent Alenik from ICF. Kids don’t listen to their parents, and I won’t say that any of those four names I just mentioned said anything different than what my parents said, but hearing it from other avenues made it sink in and made it a bit more real. Their mentoring and their investment in me made who I am now possible and hopefully where I’m able to go in the future.
Pictured Above: Elmore, far right, at the NJTL fundraising event in 2018.