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Special Feature
College Tennis Community Rallies Behind Houston
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The phone calls, emails and text messages began rolling in as soon as Hurricane Harvey started pounding the Houston area with unrelenting rain and wind.

Fellow coaches wanted to know how they could help the tennis programs at Houston and Rice.

UH's Athletic Department is United in Helping the Community
© University of Houston Athletics

In an effort to coordinate the goodwill, the schools began donation drives to help supply locals in need with basic essentials.

Houston women's coach Courtney Steinbock sent an email to coaches requesting shirts and shoes. Rice women's coach Elizabeth Schmidt and Rice men's coach Efe Ustundag started by asking for shoes, but have been happy to accept socks, clothes and even blankets.

From the SEC to the Big Ten to the Pac-12 and many conferences in between, the response was more than the programs ever imagined.

“The support from the tennis community has been unbelievably overwhelming,” Schmidt said. “It's really been incredible to see everyone rally together and give emotional support and now transition to giving shoes and clothes.”

The idea for the athletic donation drive was sparked by Houston men's basketball coach Kelvin Sampson and quickly spread to other sports with the help of social media.

The NCAA programs in the Houston area wanted a way to give back to a community that has given them so much.

Many of their loyal fans and neighbors have been greatly impacted by a storm that has shattered rainfall records for the continental United States with more than 50 inches having fallen.

Local shelters are filled with people whose homes were destroyed or severely flooded. They lost most of their belongings and face a long road in rebuilding.

Although it's been hard to see the destruction Harvey has wrought, Steinbock has been heartened by the generosity of others.

“It has just been incredible the number of people that have reached out and offered their facilities or anything else we may need,” Steinbock said. “Right now we can use anything and everything to donate to others. We really want to try and get as much possible because there is so much need.”

The tennis programs don't know the exact number of items that have been donated since the mail system is down in the Houston area.

But they expect an onslaught of boxes filled with gear to start arriving in the coming days and weeks. Other programs have posted photos on Twitter of their donations being packed and sent.

The ITA made a video of their donation, and encouraged all tennis programs to donate as much as they can.

Rice Tennis Is Collecting Donations For Locals In Need
© University of Rice Athletics

Conference USA set up a relief fund, which received approval from the NCAA for Rice to donate all the proceeds to the local community.

“I got an email from the Florida Institute of Technology saying they had been through something like this before and their student-athletes and administration were going to hold a drive this weekend to get stuff together to send down here to the people in Houston,” Schmidt said. “In such a tragedy, it's really heartwarming to see so much support for everybody in our city from so many different places across the country.”

Steinbock, Schmidt and Ustundag have tried to contact other college coaches in the area to make sure they are safe and ask if they need anything. Schmidt exchanged text messages with Lamar women’s coach David Wong, who told her his team was staying at his house because the city had lost access to clean water.

Houston's campus is closed until Tuesday, but Steinbock and her players are prepared to begin sorting through the donations once they arrive and determine where they will go next.

“We are going to try and distribute it any way we can,” Steinbock said. “We want to try and help as many people as possible and have it go to the right places. Once we get a better idea of how much stuff we have, we will figure out the best plan.”

Houston Helps Package Food During Hurricane Harvey
© Courtney Steinbock

Aside from soliciting donations, the Houston and Rice programs have been volunteering in the community at places like food banks.

They realize once the national attention wanes and the flood waters recede, people will still be struggling and need help.

“That is something Efe, Courtney and I have communicated about. I think there is an opportunity for us to continue to stay active in volunteering,” Schmidt said. “This is going to affect our city for a long time, and it's important for our student-athletes to continue to help long past the next couple of days. It's important to keep using the platform to help others.”

In the midst of the ravaging storm, Steinbock managed to find a brief moment of levity. Her new assistant Santiago Lobelo joined the program two weeks ago.

“I told him I don't know what other city you start off with a solar eclipse at the beginning and a hurricane at the end,” Steinbock said. “But welcome to Houston.”

Steinbock is confident the resilient citizens in the Houston area will rebuild and emerge stronger than before. She is grateful for the support the tennis community has provided during this trying time.

“I think it shows how big the tennis world is, but how small it is. We all know each other. It's the same with any sport. You are all competitive, but at the end of the day that goes out the window and you don't think of that,” Steinbock said. “We are all family and want to make sure we take care of each other. I think it gives not only our sport, but every sport a little confidence in humanity.”

 

Contact information for programs interested in donating goods -

To Houston:

Courtney Steinbock

UH Tennis Office

3204 Cullen Blvd.

Houston, Texas 77204

To Rice:

Rice University

ATTN: Efe Ustundag

Department of Athletics/MS 548

6100 Main Street

Houston, Texas 77005

 
 

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About Rhiannon Potkey

Rhiannon Potkey is a veteran sportswriter with more than two decades of experience in journalism. Potkey has covered many sports at many levels and has a passion for finding great stories. Potkey has covered the U.S. Open, junior sectional and national events, college conference championships and Davis Cup matches. Potkey is currently Content Strategist for Tennis Recruiting.
 
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