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Northern California

Celebrating Black History Month: Q&A with Kevin Ware, USTA Official



In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting members of our community and sharing their unique perspectives on the importance of recognizing Black History Month, diversity in tennis, and sharing their personal tennis stories.

 

Meet Kevin Ware. He is a respected USTA and USTA NorCal official in his ninth year of officiating. Ware started as a Roving Official and quickly took on almost all aspects of officiating. While Ware still loves roving at community and junior events, you can primarily find him working as a professional Line Umpire and Chair Umpire for both ITA (college tennis) and USTA Pro Circuit matches.

Kevin Ware Q&A

Q: In the past, you attended a diversity workshop that got you interested in officiating. In your opinion, why is it important to have these types of workshops and how do you think it impacts the Northern California tennis community?

 

A: I can honestly say that if it weren't for the diversity workshops, I wouldn't be a tennis official. USTA NorCal had reached out to the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Tennis Federation (GLTF) to let them know about upcoming workshops for new officials. A friend of mine in the group informed me about the upcoming workshop and suggested that it might be a nice accompaniment to my former work as a tennis writer. For the record, it's not. Officials can't have dealings with the media. Fortunately for me, it was way more than an accompaniment. Besides the fact that I was getting paid to do it, it's become a great way to be of service to the sport I love. As I said, it would never have happened without that diversity outreach to the GLTF.

Q: As an official, what do you think it means to be a leader in the tennis community?

 

A: An official in any sport can be a lot of different things. Athletes usually view us as enforcers. The tennis police. I like to get them to think of me as a resource of someone helpful in resolving disputes and answering questions, no matter how small. I try to do so while also modeling my respect (and love) for the sport. By doing those things, I've hopefully set a standard that makes players want to come back and participate at the next event. 

 

Q: Why do you think it is important to have a diverse representation within the officials' community?

 

A: If someone can see themself represented in an activity, they are more likely to take part in that activity. I began playing tennis as a young boy after seeing Arthur Ashe win Wimbledon. Borg and Connors were fine champions, but I didn't see myself in either of them. I did see myself in Arthur, and that's what led me to the sport. I might not be the main focus, but perhaps my presence on the court and how I carry myself as an official will have an effect as well.  I hope so.

 

Q: What do you enjoy most about being an official?

 

A: One of the main things I enjoy is my connections to other officials across the country and the world. When tennis shut down during the pandemic, the loss of work (tournaments) was tough. What was even tougher was missing all of my friends, laughing with them, and sharing our on-court experiences. Of course, I also enjoy helping to resolve problems on court, making good calls from the line, and facilitating a smooth match between players while in the chair. But it's the people, officials, and players alike, who make this worthwhile.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite moment that stands out to you during your career thus far?

 

A: A moment that will always stand out was my participation in the 2020 US Open. After the cancellation of Wimbledon, there was a huge amount of uncertainty about the fate of the tournament because of COVID. When the decision was made to proceed, my fellow officials and I arrived with a heightened sense of purpose. It was our job to make this a safe and successful tournament for the players, ball persons, and each other. As anxious as we all were about the potential risks we were taking to be there, everyone stepped up to make it happen.

 

Don't forget that was also a summer of major social unrest regarding racial injustice, and many of us arrived in New York reeling from the events and protests of that summer. We were greeted with a huge amount of support by our USTA leadership and were even given Black Lives Matter (BLM) buttons to wear on the collar of our US Open uniform. The USTA also had a section in the stands of Ashe that was for BLM, complete with artwork on all of the seats. It was an amazing feeling to walk out on Ashe and see that commitment to us and the world.

 

I was immensely proud to be a part of it and to "represent" for my home slam.

 

Q: Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month in general, as well as in tennis?

 

A: It's great that young people today can be inspired by so many wonderful African-American athletes in our sport. But we need to remember that wasn't always the case. Althea Gibson was a remarkable woman who had to constantly battle for her place in our sport. It was better for Arthur Ashe, but he had his battles as well. The culture of tennis has changed over the years and is more accepting of athletes regardless of race, nationality, or sexual orientation. But we only need to look at what's happening in many areas of the country to see how quickly we can lose ground if we're not vigilant. We need to always make sure that these past struggles aren't forgotten.

 

Q: In your opinion, how can we better bring together people of different identities and cultures through tennis?

 

A: The beauty of tennis is its neutrality. The racquet, the ball, the net, the court, and the rules of tennis... they're all neutral. All you need to play tennis is a racquet and some tennis balls. (With a hitting wall, you don't even need another person!) No matter who you are or where you're from, you belong if you want to belong. In the past, tennis had a bad rap as "a country club sport." Nowadays, there are courts everywhere, and that helps a ton in terms of exposure. There also need to be playing opportunities that don't cost a lot. I participated in the NJTL program and it got me on a court - with a free racquet - playing with others. As long as there's a place where people can play, have access to racquets, and opportunities to play with others (including wheelchair tennis participants), that's all that matters. 

 

Q: How do inclusivity and diversity factor into your overall life?

 

A: I live in San Francisco, and that's simply how it is with my life here. In fact, I take it for granted that everywhere I go will be a melting pot of people, cultures, food, etc. However, when I travel across the country for work, I'm reminded that it's not the same way in many other places. I think that's one of the many things I've grown to love about living in the Bay Area. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

Q: How do you think your experience as a tennis player helps you as an official?

 

A: I think it's the other way around for me. Spending so much time being on court as an official has given me the best perspective I could ever have when I go to play social doubles with my friends. We're not playing for ranking points, money, or trophies. We're playing because we love the game and enjoy playing with each other. I think that's a great thing for everyone to remember.

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