Former Duke Triplet Patti O'Reilly and the UTA Continue Mission to Increase Management & Community Outreach Efforts at Atlanta's Public Tennis Facilities
Patti O'Reilly was a four-time All-ACC player, a two-time ITA All-American and the 1990 ACC Player of the Year while at Duke. More importantly, she understands what it takes to work as a team to help build a program. Patti and her two triplet sisters, Christine and Terry helped establish Duke into what would become a dynasty, winning 13 consecutive ACC conference titles. She is now a partner for the Universal Tennis Academy (UTA), which owns one club and manages and operates an additional five public tennis facilities in the Atlanta area.
"It was an incredible and wonderful experience! My sisters and I have always shared a very special bond," O'Reilly said. "Playing tennis, as a triplet, made for a very unique situation – tennis is an individual sport but we had a special built-in team from the beginning. We had automatic practice partners, travel companions, double partners, etc."
After Duke won the NCAA team title this past May, it brought back memories on how the program was really brought to such prominence. Head coach Jamie Ashworth says that the O’Reilly triplets “really put Duke on the map.”
"From the beginning our collegiate experience was unusual," said O'Reilly. "We had excelled academically and athletically, which gave us the unique opportunity to select a college. We thought it would be a wonderful experience to build a tennis program. Duke had an outstanding tradition of excellence in so many areas, scholastically and athletically. This balance was extremely important to us."
"Tennis is truly a sport of a lifetime – it teaches the youth valuable lessons in dedication, discipline, and sportsmanship while also providing exercise and a social network for adults. We have been given a tremendous opportunity to give back to our community and to have a huge impact on the lives of others. We would like to draw children off the streets and onto the tennis court. By doing this, we not only introduce them to a sport of a lifetime, but we also empower them with discipline, confidence, and motivation that they will carry the rest of their lives. It is also rewarding to see adults have a place to participate in friendly competition in a welcoming environment. We believe we can successfully build these sites into flourishing tennis facilities."
The city was losing a substantial amount of money running these five sites and had plans to potentially close down the centers. UTA did not want to see these sites close believing a public tennis facility needs to be run as an efficient business. "Management must be motivated to make the center profitable, otherwise inefficient and cost-prohibitive systems can easily overwhelm the facility", said O'Reilly. "Some of the firsts steps include establishing effective procedures and policies and offering superior customer service with a reliable and personable staff."
As O'Reilly further explained, two of the sites that the UTA is now managing are inner city tennis centers that most likely will not be self-sustaining entities. The UTA is in the process of forming a 501C(3) charitable organization to assist the two inner city tennis facilities. Years ago, one of the centers, Washington Park, was a thriving tennis facility which produced excellent tennis players. In fact, Scoville Jenkins (a former sponsored UTA player), who also played out of Washington Park, became the first African American to win the USTA Boys National Championship in Kalamazoo. Today, due to lack of funding for programs and quality coaching, both facilities are barely used. Due to the economy, the city has also been closing after school recreation programs that are so important for the children.
"It is important to be surrounded with an excellent team of people to assist you in the endeavor. It takes a lifetime to make a customer and 30 seconds to lose one," O'Reilly concluded. "You need reliable people to answer the many concerns, questions, and issues that will arise in such a venture. It takes a great deal of passion to succeed in any business so make sure you have a passion for tennis and customer service."