NTJL 50 for 50:
Sally Milano | April 2, 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 Grace Trimble, who, at 17, was the youngest person to found an NJTL when she started LTC Smart Shots in Lexington, Ky.
Trimble, from Winchester, Ky., is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, where she majored in political science and history and was a walk-on on the UK women's tennis team. A recipient of the Dwight F. Davis and Truman scholarships, as well as a Rhodes Scholar finalist, Trimble went to graduate school at the University of Georgia, where she recently earned her Master's degree in public administration with an emphasis in nonprofit administration.
The Grace Trimble File
Name: Grace Trimble
NJTL Chapter: LTC Smart Shots, Lexington, Ky.
Role with NJTL: Founder of LTC Smart Shots (2010), winner of the Arthur Ashe Essay Contest (2010), speaker at the USTA Foundation Opening Night Gala at the US Open (2011)
Year became active in NJTL: 2009
How did you get involved with NJTL?
Grace Trimble: I guess it was two weeks after I turned 17, I had this idea of Smart Shots that popped into my head. I really wanted to think about the fact there were other kids in similar positions as me who didn’t have the means or exposure to tennis, and I wanted to change that within the community. So out of that thought and out of [my coach] Jo Wallen’s investment in me, Smart Shots was born. I really leaned on Jo heavily because I was 17 and didn’t really know what I was doing.
Smart Shots actually ended up partnering with an urban organization in Lexington called Urban Impact. It’s a wonderful organization, and they gave us an established group to come in and partner with them and teach these kids tennis, give them a snack and tutor them after school. When we first launched, there were about eight kids at one site, and then by the time I graduated from high school, we were serving 80 kids in multiple sites.
Talk a bit about Smart Shots. What kinds of programs were available to the kids?
Grace Trimble: We did an after-school program. They’d start in the gym, then do snack and then go upstairs and do tutoring. The kids would have a mentor with them and do tutoring for 2 1/2 hours. Then they would finish their homework and do QuickStart Tennis in the gym. We would run a normal clinic, focus on something. If they’d have trouble listening, there would be a listening day.
We’d continue progressing forward and do multiple days. We’d do more locations, and different kids would interact. By the time I was in college, I’d bring my friends from the [Kentucky] basketball team to the program, and the kids would freak out. Other friends from the tennis team would come when we could make it to the after-school program. A couple friends from football came. I brought Kentucky athletes with me in a big way.
I know after you left UK, you worked for Rand Paul in Washington, D.C., for a couple years before going back to school and earning your Master’s at the University of Georgia. What have you been doing since?
Grace Trimble: I graduated a semester early and am currently two weeks into a job at the University of Georgia. I work as an industry collaborations program manager. A lot of what we’re doing here at the university is pairing industries and private companies or foundations with researchers on campus to bring products to market, so a lot of the relationship-building that I developed within the nonprofit NJTL [Smart Shots] I am using now and developing further.
I think long-term, I still am passionate about what I started doing at 17, and I hope to get back to that. [I want to] be able to establish myself now, just out of school, financially and everything and all the things that come with coming out of school. And then, ultimately, my dream is to branch Smart Shots, my nonprofit, around a job. I will say, at 17, I was almost more confident in myself than I am now at 26 because now I know things and how hard it is, and back then, I was just like, “Let’s do it!” I think a lot of what I refer back to is, “I’ve done it before; we can do it again.”
Did you think when you started an NJTL that it would have such an impact on your life?
Grace Trimble: I didn’t start an organization thinking any of this would happen, but I truly believe in the investment of underserved communities. I came from it and know what it takes to get out of it, and I want to facilitate that for other kids in the future and especially these kids I was able to meet and invest in through NJTL. It’s such a gift, and I hope and pray I can establish myself in a way that I can relaunch Smart Shots and continue to make an impact on communities in the South.
What do you enjoy most about NJTL?
Grace Trimble: So many things. I think what I enjoy most and what I’ve seen as I look back on the years I’ve been involved is the impact it’s made on the community in Kentucky and in my life. It’s so much more than just tennis, and I think that’s what Arthur Ashe was getting at. It’s not just about, at the end of the day, becoming a professional tennis athlete. It’s about really building character and life skills and just what tennis teaches you—hard work, determination, grit within yourself, to really go for what you want in life. It’s not just about the homework and a child’s forehand. It’s about affording the kids the skills that will last a lifetime. It did that for me.
Pictured above (l to r): Grace's brother, John; Grace; her sister, Katie; and parents Robin and Mort.