By Ryan Wolfington
The Excellence Team Exchange was created as a demonstration of one way in which NJTL chapters can contribute to Player Development outcomes. By selecting participants based on athletic ability and desire, without regard to race and income, the teams found talented youngsters who would otherwise not have been given the opportunity. First class coaching and tournament travel was provided by the grant and several players developed national rankings during the two year project. The culmination of the project was a training weekend where team members from either coast trained, competed, and learned from Team Agassi from the Agassi Boys & Girls Club in Las Vegas, NV-whose outcomes the Excellence Team concept was attempting to replicate. Teams came from two excellent NJTL chapters: the Junior Tennis Champions Center, in College Park, MD, and Youth Tennis San Diego, from San Diego, CA. In Las Vegas, the players received coaching inputs from new sources, played singles and doubles, and discussed "matters more important than tennis," as Arthur Ashe put it. Discussions between training session focused on decision making, leadership, Arthur Ashe, and the importance of a college education.
Children were treated to a very special "Leadership Breakfast" with guest speaker Steve Miller, the CEO of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation and former top NIKE Executive who signed Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi and Tiger Woods to name a few. Miller talked about how he made a choice, to use education to give him a second chance at life. He shared his story of coming from the streets of Chicago, working hard to make a better life for himself.
Other great speakers included the "General" Greg Patton, Men's Head Coach of Boise State University; and Brad Pierce, Head Men's Coach of Brigham Young University. The coaches talked about how exciting it is to play college tennis, how to go about getting on a team. The children were given a taste of what their future could become.
The NJTL Committee Chair and Vice-Chair, Kevin Dowdell, and Beverly Bourguet, respectively attended and took part in the life skills and leadership discussions, as well as sharing best practices with NJTL chapters to help inspire collaboration.
Geoff Russell, the National Manager of Talent ID from the USTA's Player Development office also took part and used his experience with high performance tennis to share ideas with NJTL staff and leaders. Dan Limbago, NJTL National Manager, Emily Sandor, NJTL Coordinator, and Adam Carey, the Head Coach of Team Agassi in Las Vegas planned and executed the event with the help of many local resources including the USTA-Intermountain - Nevada District, and Hilliary Heard, the Executive Director of the Marty Hennesy NJTL Chapter in Las Vegas.
During their trip the children and NJTL leadership were able to do a variety of education and leadership based activities. In addition to the life skills-leadership training and discussions the children were taken to Red Rock National Park, ITA colleg regional matches and fun recreation activities in the city.
The NJTL leadership was also able to meet up with Mr. Agassi to listen to his stories of what it was like to raise and coach Andre, what it was like for a minority in a country club sport back in the 70's and 80's. Some of them got the chance to hit on the infamous ball machine invented by Mr. Agassi and held Andre's first US OPEN Grand Slam trophy!
"It was an honor to host such extraordinary programs, We learned a lot from the other NJTL chapters and NJTL leadership" explainedd Andre Agassi Foundation Director of Tennis Adam Carey. "The children enjoyed meeting each other and the life skills talks and leadership speeches were something they will never forget."