North American Indian Tennis Association tournament sets new participation record
An annual celebration of tennis and Native American traditions since its first edition in 1976, the North American Indian Tennis Association's national tournament hit new heights during Memorial Day weekend. With this year's event held in Tulsa, Okla., the 47th staging of the tournament boasted a record 125 registered players along with 100 children participating in a USTA-sponsored kids' clinic.
With competitors representing 23 different Native American tribes across the United States, the three-day tournament crowned champions in various adult, junior and senior tournaments, with skill levels ranging from beginner to the 5.0 NTRP level.
The event traditionally kicks off with an opening ceremony that includes a blessing, drumming and singing. It also includes a Saturday evening banquet complete with awards, raffles and special speakers.
“It's just a rich history of Native American families coming together for Memorial Day weekend every single year that love the game of tennis and love spending time with their family,” first-year tournament director Jessica RedCorn said of the festivities.
“A lot of the families turn it into a family reunion because they might not just be from one state, so they can travel all together and then spend three days of tennis and fun and food. And it's just a really good time.”
At this year’s banquet, three original NAITA members were honored: Jeri RedCorn (Jessica’s aunt), Dr. George Blue Spruce and Weldon Smith.
Smith was part of the core group that organized the very first NAITI national tournament in 1976, which was held in San Diego. He explained how the inaugural event was the brainchild of Cecilia Firethunder, who ironically was not even a tennis player.
“She had this idea of bringing emphasis to tennis in Indian country because it was always thought of as a non-Indian sport,” he shared, adding that the first tournament had 35 players.
“What's interesting for me here now is to be able to see the expanse of it. But the dream was the kids. And there's 95 here. We couldn't even envision that. So they've done some amazing things. But it’s nice to be able to see it still going, and people are doing so much hard work to get it to where it is right now.
“We could have only dreamed of where it is now. And it continues to have the support, as it does with the people who have their hearts in it.”
Smith’s continued participation on the court exemplifies tennis as a sport for a lifetime, but he takes more pride in sharing the game with the younger generation—not only for the strokes and competition, but for the ethics, etiquette and sportsmanship that the sport instills.
In addition to the event's well-attended kids' clinic, youth was also served in the women’s and men’s tournaments in Tulsa. Caroline Henry—a Tulsa resident and a junior on Division II Emporia State University’s tennis team—completed a triple crown by winning the women’s open singles, doubles (with Beth Wagner) and mixed doubles (with father Steve Henry) titles.
"I told her, 'Oh my gosh, I hope you brought a separate suitcase for your trophies!'” said RedCorn.
On the men’s side, high school student Reeve Corbin won the men’s open singles and doubles (with Jasen Baker) titles. Other events included a couples challenge and intermediate and senior tournaments, as well as junior competitions from 12-and-under to 18-and-under.
RedCorn and the NAITA hope to capitalize on the success of the event by continuing to grow the game this summer. As part of the USTA’s involvement with the event both nationally and through the Missouri Valley, 285 racquets were provided for the kids’ clinic, along with a financial grant.
While all children who participated in the clinic—which was led by USPTA-certified pros, including many Native American coaches—received a free racquet and tournament T-shirt, the remaining racquets will be used in upcoming clinics arranged by RedCorn and Tony Mullican of First Serve OKC, another NAITA tournament participant and organizer. RedCorn shared plans for upcoming clinics with the Muscogee Creek Nation tribe and her own Osage Nation tribe.
For more information on the North American Indian Tennis Association, including complete draws from the various tournaments, visit the NAITA Facebook page.