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USTA's New Initiative Aims to Reach Hispanics

The USTA's new leader, Katrina Adams, is reaching out to the Hispanic community, telling them tennis is a lifetime sport - and that college scholarships should be a goal for junior players.

USTA Chairman, CEO and President Katrina Adams has made outreach a top priority
courtesy, Rick Limpert
Adams may have only started serving her two-year term as USTA Chairman of the Board, CEO and President on Jan. 1, 2015, but her first major initiative could change the face of tennis forever.

Adams' Hispanic Engagement Advisory Group was appointed in early 2015 and includes National Volunteers, Section Volunteers, National Staff and Section Staff from all over the country and is supported by the USTA Diversity & Inclusion Department.

"When you look at the demographics of the U.S., it is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country," explains Adams. "It's a no-brainer when you talk about bringing in a culture of people we really don't serve in mass."

Per the USTA, the goal here is not only to find new tennis players, but to give them every opportunity to stick with the sport and be successful.

Charge: To engage communities, participants and providers by actively pursuing successful diverse communication efforts in attracting new Hispanic players to the sport of tennis and providing a pathway to retain them.

D.A. Abrams, the USTA's Chief Diversity Officer, says not only is it crucial they find new tennis players, but also to convert Hispanics playing other sports.

"We need to study demographics, where they are now and where they are going. We need to have tennis look like America. We want to reach the Hispanic population nationwide, but (also) a heavy dose of activity in areas where there would be large populations of Hispanics. We want to convert people to tennis."

Adams says part of the thinking is that the Hispanic culture puts an emphasis on "family" and sports participation.

Pro standout Gigi Fernandez puts on a clinic in Atlanta
courtesy, Rick Limpert
"It's a culture full of athletes, and the number one sport that many of them gravitate to is soccer. That shows they have the footwork and coordination for tennis."

Tennis is not just competing for bodies with soccer and baseball, two sports that traditionally attract Hispanics, but also sports like American football and lacrosse- two sports that also offer college scholarships. In 2002, then NFL commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, launched an internal task force so the NFL could begin researching and learning about the Hispanic fanbase and young athletes. The NFL moved some games to Mexico, and a 2012 ESPN sports poll says 25 million Hispanics identify themselves as NFL fans. Thanks to increased media access and having all NFL games broadcast in Spanish, more young Hispanics are playing youth football. The number of Hispanics playing youth football in the U.S. has doubled in the last 10 years, and Hispanics now make up 3% of college football rosters. NFL stars like Tony Gonzalez and Victor Cruz are helping the cause as they are promoting their heritage along with the sport of football. Hispanics have also taken to the growing sport of lacrosse, particularly in the state of California. Lacrosse evangelists have hit urban pockets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, offering equipment and organizations like the Warrior Club in Santa Cruz where Hispanics are encouraged to grab a stick, put on a helmet and try lacrosse.

"The cost also presented a barrier at first, but the kids got scholarships from the Warriors or play for free on the public school teams," explains Charlie Uribe, a Mexican-American whose sons play lacrosse, and loves how friendly and open the lacrosse community is in California."People around here are very family-oriented. Everyone is nice and helpful. I haven't seen anything I don't like."

Adams adds that the USTA message will include an emphasis on tennis being a family sport and that the whole family can get involved. Getting the entire family to take the court - four, five, six family members - is critical for the sport's growth. She says it's also about tapping into the $1.3 trillion and growing, spending power Hispanics have in this country.

The USTA is competing with other sports for the attention of the Hispanic community
courtesy, Rick Limpert
Gigi Fernandez, a 17-time Grand Slam champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was a peer of Adams when they played professionally and hailed from Puerto Rico. She is getting "hands on" with Hispanic junior players by running free clinics in places like Atlanta and New Haven during ATP World Tour and WTA tournaments. She sees kids in the U.S. looking up to players like Rafael Nadal, and she thinks it wouldn't hurt to have a top Hispanic-American player for kids to use as a role model. She also says that when promoting tennis, there are always obstacles to overcome.

"We will have commercials running during the US Open targeting Hispanic youth, but we still have to get over the reputation of tennis being an expensive sport," states Fernandez. Once you have a racket, there are programs and use of courts at parks that are free."

Adams has Former U.S. No. 1 and International Tennis Hall of Fame member, Charlie Pasarell, in her corner as he was also one of the founders of National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL). It's no coincidence Pasarell was the subject of the 2015 Arthur Ashe Essay Contest.

"We need to embrace (history) and push it more," added Adams. "He's a spokesman, but so much more. This young generation has to know the history of the sport and recognize its (historic) figures."

Television commercials and history lessons are one thing, but Adams made an important point to this interviewer - that this outreach is all-inclusive.

The USTA is making attempts to be as inclusive as possible
courtesy, Rick Limpert
"The sport is about embracing everyone, white collar and blue collar. All (while) explaining the benefits of our sport to younger players, older players. It's great exercise; there are social aspects, and if you are good enough, you could earn a college scholarship."

A product of college tennis herself, Adams, a two-time NCAA All-American at Northwestern, says the USTA will keep pointing top young American players, including Hispanic juniors in the direction of college tennis.

"We are very much vested in college tennis. We have a relationship that is on even ground so we can help grow college tennis and produce top Americans. We want players to go to college. I was a college player, and I loved it. I believe in it and know the value of it."


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About Rick Limpert

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. He covers sports and technology for the likes of Yahoo News and Sports and has covered tennis at all levels for almost 10 years. His website is www.ricklimpert.info and you can follow him on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

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