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New England

Pilot Begins for Winning Innovation Challenge Idea

James Maimonis, Manager, Media & Communications | March 16, 2022


WESTBOROUGH, MA - Since 2020, USTA New England has transitioned its focus to channeling a more innovative culture. The shift began with hosting its first-ever Innovation Challenge in the fall of 2020, an initiative that gave New England community members the chance to submit new tennis ideas that focused on inclusivity. 


The winning team, headed by Maine special education teacher and tennis coach, Resty Sepuan, created a plan for a Summer STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) curriculum built around tennis. 


The goal of the program is for children to connect tennis to the real world via a free curriculum delivered to them through their school or youth organization.  

“I chose STEAM because of its real world applications and how fascinating it would be to use it to show the scientific side of tennis through its curriculum,” Sapuan said. “Not only could the idea help students retain academic skills that many lose during the summer, but it could help them become better, more technical tennis players.”


Beginning in fall 2021, USTA New England partnered with Unruly Splats, a STEM learning tool that combines coding with active play, as the first step in the implementation of the winning idea. The Splats themselves are devices that look like big colorful buttons, and kids use an app to code the devices to light up, make sounds and collect points. They then stomp on them and play interactive games. 

“Funny enough, the first game we ever built for Unruly Splats on one of our earliest prototypes was a tennis game. It took coordination between two players to volley light back and forth from Splat to Splat. So when the USTA approached us about using Unruly Splats in its afterschool programs, we knew it would be a great fit. It's come full circle to be partnering with USTA,” said Bryanne Leeming, CEO and Founder of Unruly Studios. 


USTA New England’s Director of Recreational Programs & Facilities, Sarah Wishart, organized a trial run beginning in January 2022 with two New England NJTLs, TeamFAME and Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center, to pilot the Splats with their students. 


TeamFAME, which is based at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, recently completed their pilot with fifth and sixth graders. Following tennis on Fridays, TeamFAME students spent an hour familiarizing themselves with the Splats. 


“They definitely learned a lot. As they changed the code, they could see their impact right away. They also benefited from having that physical movement piece and sound that correspond,” said Jennie Schwab, TeamFAME Lead Enrichment Teacher. “Any type of opportunity like this for kids to code or just to experience something like this, even if it only touches a handful of kids, can be extremely beneficial..”


The Splats are now in the hands of Sportsmen’s students, who will continue the pilot through April. USTA New England will also be partnering with the New Hampshire Homeschool Tennis Program later in 2022.


“We’re excited to have gotten this project rolling and to give this unique opportunity to a couple of our NJTLs,” Wishart said. “It will also be great to have the homeschool program in New Hampshire test it out so we can introduce a STEAM component into their program and hopefully others.” 


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