Each year, U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit competitors from around the world land in Dallas, Texas for the annual RBC Tennis Championships. They’re well prepared to compete in a sport they’ve mastered in a familiar tournament atmosphere – one that tests their endurance, grit and determination.
But unlike these pro athletes, there’s another group of individuals that steps on to the same hardcourts for what may be their very first time. They experience the sport in a much different way than the pros, but with just as much excitement, energy and enthusiasm.
The group, made up of 100 children from the Dallas metroplex is victorious no matter what, learning new lessons and making fun memories they cherish for years to come. This one-of-a-kind opportunity is organized for them by the Dallas Tennis Association (DTA), a nonprofit that has provided tennis, education and life skills to the under-resourced youth of the Dallas community for more than 30 years.
At this event, known as the Citywide Children’s Clinic, everyone is a qualifier – no matter their athletic ability or socioeconomic status. The participants, ranging in ages from three to 18, receive tennis instruction from the pro players themselves. As positive role models, the pros instill confidence and sportsmanship within the children and are a shining example of a strong work ethic.
The clinic is held on the opening day of tournament events and is free to any child in the Dallas metroplex. Additionally, throughout the following days of the tournament, the DTA hosts free clinics for the deaf and Latino communities.
2019 marks the 21st year for the tournament in Dallas, and the DTA has been fortunate to be a primary beneficiary of the event for 17 of those years.
In 2012, when the tournament was in need of a new title sponsor, RBC Wealth Management’s Senior Managing Director – Complex Director in Dallas, Andy Teller, recognized the potential of the sponsorship opportunity, specifically the chance to support the DTA and its formative programs. Their mission very closely aligns with the firm’s commitment to improving the well-being of youth in the communities where we live and work. In addition to providing tennis instruction and equipment, part of the DTA’s efforts include tutoring and life-skills training.
“There’s nothing better than having the opportunity to change a child’s life,” says Teller. “For this reason alone it was an easy decision to become involved. Engaging and investing in our community are among the most important things that we do.”
The DTA’s past president, Phillippa Nierling, was also integral in establishing the sponsorship. “When RBC came on board there was noticeably more energy, enthusiasm and success around the tournament,” she explained. “It’s become a high-profile event in the community, which has led to more public awareness for our organization. So it’s really a win-win for everybody.”
The success of the DTA’s programs is evident by its continued growth and partnership with area schools as well. According to the DTA Director of Junior Recreation, Bert Cole, attendance is rising. “More and more teachers continue to show interest in getting their students involved,” says Cole, who has been an organizer of the clinic since its early years.
Though the Citywide Children’s Clinic event was originally tied to the DTA’s “Invest in a child” philanthropic effort, the association has renamed the program as the “Dallas Tennis and Education Academy (DTEA),” and for good reason.
“While ‘invest in a child’ is still a tagline, we have 16-, 17- and 18-year-old young adults who are involved in all of our programs as well,” explains Nierling. “They might be heading to air force academy or medical school, and this new title better identifies its participants and articulates the program’s purpose.”
What’s not forgotten is that the DTEA’s efforts are still an investment into our collective future; our future generations. Each year, approximately 25,000 Dallas children participate in the DTEA’s initiatives and activities in some shape or form.
“The success of these programs is amazing,” said Nierling. “The kids that complete the program graduate from high school and go on to college. Usually they’re the first in their families to ever do that.”
According to the DTA, their tennis programs are also motivated by recent U.S. childhood obesity and diabetes rates. The organization takes into account local communities, such as those in South Dallas, where food deserts create problems for families trying to find healthy and affordable fresh foods.
“That fuels us to get our kids active,” explains Heather Stevens, Executive Director of the DTA. “We teach them healthy living skills, life skills and we get them involved in a game that they can play their entire life.”
Photos by: Ryan Bibb and Andy Lai.
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