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New England

Boston Tennis Players Lead Effort to Save Zimbabwean Tennis Academy

James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | February 23, 2021

WESTON, MA - He is a former ATP tour player. He is the former No. 1 ranked NCAA Division I men’s tennis player in the country (Southern Methodist University). He represented his home nation in the Davis Cup. He is now the Head Racquets Professional at the Weston Golf Club in Weston, MA. He is Genius Chidzikwe, and his tennis journey began like so many others in Mutare, Zimbabwe – at Mantas Tennis Academy.

 

Mantas is a small yet jam-packed eight-court facility with humble beginnings. In 1987, Ann and Frank Martin, two local residents with a passion for tennis and helping others, opened what was then a provincial tennis development program. They would house young players, pay for their training and travel and fund the academy out of their own pockets. For the next 13 years, the program expanded and started to produce high-level players, and in 2000, adopted the name Mantas Tennis Academy. 

 

“When I look back now, Mantas was such a life-giving experience for us. It was something to look forward to, keep us active and healthy in the process. It opened us up to a lot of avenues, using skills and tools from tennis, to give us a better life,” Chidzikwe said. 

 

Now funded by a combination of donors, Mantas is bigger than ever and has produced some of the nation’s top players, approximately 70 of whom have come to the United States to play collegiately or professionally. 

However, political inconsistencies throughout the country have caused an economic downturn, leaving many residents and businesses, including Mantas, in rough shape. A recent UN study has found more than 70 percent of Zimbabwean children in rural areas are living in poverty.

 

Over the years, the academy’s eight all-weather courts have seen extreme deterioration. Four were recently repaired thanks to generous Zimbabwean families, but the other four remain almost unplayable, and academy funds have run out to fix them. 

 

Additional funds are also needed for coaching, training, travel, equipment and supplies. Many parents are not even able to pay the nominal fee for their children to attend. 

Learning about the academy’s struggle for survival, a Weston family, who has been connected to Mantas and Chidzikwe for years, has stepped in to lead the fundraising efforts. The Lathrops, led by mother Mari and youngest son Nate, along with Chidzikwe and fellow Mantas gratuate and head pro at Brae Burn Country Club in Newton, Brian Pindura, have all donated and started a GoFundMe page to save the academy. 

 

“I was approached by Brian, my personal coach, and there was no question our family wanted to help,” Lathrop said. “Over the last 15 years, our family has had the privilege of working with Mantas and these coaches. They placed racquets in our children’s hands, developed them as competitive tennis players and continue to serve as role models. Inspired by his coaches, our eldest son, John, went on to play college tennis at Swarthmore College.”

 

In 2015, the Lathrops also started a program to collect gently used tennis racquets, balls and equipment to send to the children at Mantas. Nate is still actively leading this service effort. 

 

“Thus far, we are pleased to see donors embrace the cause to support Mantas and help those children from marginalized communities receive high-level coaching, realize their potential and fulfill academic careers abroad. Mantas’ success in fulfilling its mission is reflected in its graduates,” Lathrop said.

 

Chidzikwe is still in constant communication with Mantas, as his nieces and nephews now attend. He has led his own informal effort with his Boston-based Zimbabwean colleges to donate a percentage of their lesson profits to the academy. 

 

“I’m one of these stories. Mine may have grown bigger than most, but without them, I wouldn’t be here right now,” said Chidzikwe. “Without Mantas, kids will miss out on an opportunity not just to play tennis, but for something positive to do to get rid of all the negativity happening right now in the country. We are determined to not let this academy go away. This must not fail. The kids need it.”

 

At the time of writing, the fundraiser has collected $18,000 from 75 donors out of the total goal to raise $30,000. To learn more, click here.

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