A Voice for Advocacy: In their Own Words

Advocacy_Voice_2010

The following information has been gathered from coaches who have faced the dropped program issue up close and personal and have emerged with a positive outcome and college tennis advocates who have a passion for our sport.

We are grateful to share their stories in the hope that it will provide some inspiration and insight for other coaches to learn from these situations and apply some of this guidance to their own circumstances in the hope that similar positive outcomes can be achieved.

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UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII-HILO MEN’S VARSITY TENNIS

Kula Oda, Head Men’s Varsity Tennis Coach

Email: koda@hawaii.edu Phone: 808-964-7335

Here is how we saved our program. We have been doing grass roots community based events for years and that really was the beginnings of what saved us. We do weekly junior programs and we are also the man power for all of the USTA events in our area, amongst many other community based activities. Over the years we have made our teams an integral part of the tennis community here in Hilo. Most tennis players in Hilo, especially all the kids, know our athletes by first name and therefore they have a personal connection to them in some way or another. This personal connection to our community is what saved our program. When news of the suspension started to spread, community people came out in groves to support the program. Hilo is a very family oriented place and when parents started to realize that their kids would no longer have access to such great role models, they came to our aid. We had a town hall meeting with our administrators, where the community members stood up one after the other and told personal stories of how the team members have affected their lives and the lives of their kids. At the end of the meeting our Vice Chancellor was in tears. At the meeting we also did what we called a “circle of life”, which worked like this. I have 2 guys on my team that are from Hilo. We had them in our junior programs from the time they were 10 years old. They benefited from the guys on the team at that time and now they are on the team, giving back to the younger kids and inspiring them to strive to be college tennis players and upstanding members of our community as well. So we explained this and brought them up to the front of the meeting. We then brought up a bunch of juniors that are currently in our programs and explained to our administrators that if the team is taken away, you are taking away the opportunity for these kids to continue that “circle of life”. You are taking away not only their source of inspiration, but also their ability to inspire others in the future. When we actually put faces in front of our administrators and showed them the connection that our athletes have with the community, I think it made a huge impact. I know this connection with the community is not possible for everyone but I would encourage all coaches to do what you can to make that connection with your local tennis communities because without them we would have been down the road.

We also had to prove to our administrators that we could raise enough money to sustain the program for 2 years. Although they were inspired by the community and it allowed us to at least start the conversation of saving the team, there was still the issue of dollars not being available. I don’t think any administrator wants to cut sports but they do it out of necessity, sometimes there is just no money. So the tennis community came to our aid again. We held a bunch of fundraisers and raised enough money to keep us going. We had very influential people in the community basically say to our administrators “we are not going to let this die, so you tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it”, and they did. We knew we were not going to sustain that kind of fundraising effort for more that 2 or 3 years, but we wanted to be able to bridge the gap and see if the administrators could find a way to fund us in the future. Well, we are happy to say that the future is now and we just got notice that they will be funding us for the 2010-2011 season. Albeit at a lower level then when all of this started, but much better than the last 2 years.

Not sure if you can pull anything useful from our situation, but that is the basically how things went down here in Hilo. For me personally, it has honestly been an inspirational experience. This experience has truly given me a better perspective on what we mean to each other as a community and how we can work together to make this world a better place. Remember that it is never about X’s and O’s or Wins and Losses. Administrators and community members don’t care how well you can hit tennis balls, they want to know what your team means to the university and the surrounding community. How does your team make a difference? If the team no longer exists, who will be impacted and in what way? These are much more powerful arguments.

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WHEATON COLLEGE (IL) MEN’S VARISTY TENNIS

Brad Pihl, Head Men’s Varsity Tennis Coach

Email: brad.pihl@wheaton.edu Phone:

In our case, I think one of the keys was quick action. One of our alumni did a great job (completely on his own initiative) in making other alumni aware of the situation and getting them to write to the president and others in charge of the decision making process, talking about the pivotal role of the athletic experience. Many of them also pledged financial support. We were also able to get money raised quickly for four years. Two or three days after the announcement, a donor came forward and offered to fund the program for four years, which was accepted by the president.

I think you need to be able to prove to the administration that you can keep the program alive for a few years, which allows for some stability, and then consider an endowment. Again, for us, the school didn't "overturn" the decision in that they are still not funding the program, but they are allowing us, after these next four years, to fund the program through an endowment.


Moving forward, we are attempting to raise an endowment of $650,000 to
secure the future of the program. That is the only option to save the
program after this four year period.

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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA—DAVIS MEN’S VARSITY TENNIS

Darryl Lee, Head Men’s Varsity Tennis Coach

Email: darlee@ucdavis.edu Phone: 530-752-9365

I think this came down to the criteria that the athletic department used. Which sports provided the most savings, which sports helped the most with Title IX, conference affiliation, and sports facilities. Men's tennis was pretty strong in all of these areas.

Ironically, last summer men's tennis was mentioned as the first sport to be possibly dropped after this school year. But on February 5th, the chancellor announced a $1.79 million cut to the athletic department. And another key aspect is that in 1994, the students here voted to tax themselves for a 23 sport program. We have 27 sports, so it seems as though no more than four sports could be dropped.

So basically the budget cut was so high, in combination with not dropping more than four sports, may have took men's tennis off of the dart board.

Regarding our plans to ensure the future of the program, fortunately I have some parents of team players who are very supportive about creating an endowment. So we're starting to work on this. Also, we will be hosting a futures tournament in June, and we're looking for sponsors. After expenses, this funding would go towards our program. We also have an annual pro-am in the fall, and we run a couple camps and an adult tournament every year.

A COLLEGE TENNIS ADVOCATE SPEAKS OUT

Dan Dwyer, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Email: Ddwyer@rrpub.com Phone: 205-310-6269

I do feel very strongly about all institutions NOT DROPPING college tennis programs. Why?

I am a 53 year old man raised in the South and played football beginning at a young age. Five knee surgeries later I cannot play tennis and can barely walk-up stairs. Tennis was not on anyone's radar screen let alone as a teenage boy growing up in Alabama.

When my son Joseph, was seven years old we took him around to parks in the Athens, GA area and he only saw young men playing football, baseball, soccer and other sports. What he saw on tennis courts were people of all ages playing. He was hooked.

He began tennis the next week, progressed rapidly and began to study the sport by attending University of Georgia men's and women's tennis matches and was a ball boy at the National Championship Men's Collegiate Tennis final in Athens in 2000. In 2002 we moved so he could attend Roddick Total Tennis in San Antonio, TX headed by John Roddick. Joseph then moved to John Newcombe Tennis Academy in New Braunfels, TX. The entire family was and is committed to this amazing sport. Joseph is the first athletic recruit ever at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta, GA) as they are creating a tennis program as a NAIA school.

Tennis players are super athletes, generally superior students and the most determined people I've ever come across. Tennis makes every player think for themselves, problem solve, dealing with small and large issues individually, which ultimately trains them for real life. College tennis promotes the opportunity for many athletes to experience the team concept for the first time. Travel bonds them as does practice because they spend so much time together culminating in actual matches. Each match, one-six is equally compelling. The encouragement of teammates to one another is so wonderful to hear. I could go on and on.

Tennis is unlike any other sport and should always remain an integral part of college athletic programs at all levels throughout the U.S.

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