USTA College Spotlight: Mark Revermann, Kenyon College Alumnus

Mark Revermann played on the men’s tennis team at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, from 1996-99 and was named the team’s co-MVP in 1999. NowVice President of Business Development at GSP Marketing, Revermann continues his involvement in tennis as the co-founder of the Pilsen Junior Tennis Camp, a successful tennis program for kids in one of the largest Hispanic communities in Chicago. Revermann recently took time to talk with about his camp, his college tennis days and more.

 You are the co-founder of Pilsen Junior Tennis Camp. Tell us a little bit about the camp and how you got started.

Mark Revermann: A good friend, Tara Alcazar, and I started off with a relatively simple idea to bring tennis to a great neighborhood in Chicago. Pilsen is one of the largest Hispanic communities in the city, a special place whose residents hold a tremendous sense of pride, not only for their culture but the neighborhood, as well. When we’d go for a run and work out around a few of their parks, we quickly noticed that the public courts were usually always available or being used for every other sport except tennis. In more affluent Chicago neighborhoods, a vacant public court is like spotting a magical gnome.

Aside from the financial barriers of formal private instruction and indoor court time, tennis still struggles in certain Hispanic-American communities, in large part due to the accessibility and popularity of the sport in their native countries. Almost my entire family lives in Mexico, a country where the sport has been exclusively offered only to the upper class, much like golf. As you can imagine, soccer and baseball are extremely popular in Mexican-American neighborhoods, like Pilsen.

Tara and I started the Pilsen Junior Tennis Camp in many ways to get closer to the neighborhood and work with other folks making a positive social impact. We believed that a tennis camp at no cost to underserved families could also have this effect if we delivered a well-run program that focused on eliminating financial barriers and cultural stigmas. Do you have any hopes of expanding the program in the next few years?

Mark Revermann: Absolutely! To give you an idea, in 2009 – our first year – we taught around 100 kids. We’re forecasting introducing tennis to nearly 300 campers in 2010, tripling the reach of the program. We’ll certainly let you know what is in store for 2011 and beyond, but as long as we continue to see the demand and positive results, we’re here to stay. You played your college tennis at Kenyon. What is one of your best memories from your college tennis days?

Mark Revermann: I’d have to say my very first collegiate match. We traveled to Emory University to play their very strong, nationally ranked team. As a freshman, my coach, David Schilling, wanted to test me out at No. 6 singles and essentially see how I handled the competitive match-play environment. Several freshmen were getting their shot at the lineup, and these away matches were the final test after weeks of a grueling challenge ladder. For those who don’t know Emory University, their courts are essentially encircled by fraternity row. It was a Friday afternoon match, and let’s just say that all the Greek houses decided to start their weekend early on their respective patio decks overlooking the matches. My match was a close three setter, but the learning experience was learning how to block out some of the funniest heckling I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It didn’t take long for these fellas to find out who the visiting freshman was and focus their entertainment on my court. Even my coach couldn’t help but laugh at a few of the outbursts. I won the match, but to this day, David and I can still quote some of these classic lines and laugh hysterically. A lot of junior tennis players and their parents don’t know much about the Division III college tennis experience. Tell us about what makes being a DIII student-athlete so special.

Mark Revermann: Playing DIII tennis was really a fantastic experience, not to mention a privilege. At least from my perspective, the tryouts, training, competitiveness and dedication rivaled what I saw from many DI and DII schools we’d occasionally compete against in tourneys. I can attest that my teammates made the sacrifices to their social life and free time for a combination of the camaraderie, love for tennis and school spirit. Add to the fact that this major commitment has nothing to do with an athletic scholarship (DIII doesn’t offer these specific scholarships) and you’ve got a close-knit group of guys (or girls) working really hard on the court while being just as focused in their studies, preparing for future working careers. When you think about it, it’s college sport in its purest form – and perhaps what it was originally intended to be. Along with the Pilsen Junior Tennis Camp, you have a “full-time” job, as well. What do you do for a living?

Mark Revermann: I work for GSP Marketing in the position of Vice President of Business Development. We’re a full-service marketing agency that works with companies across several different sectors. Essentially, my job is to establish new business relationships and lead agency teams by working cross-functionally with creative marketing strategists and account managers – pitch new ideas and develop strategies that help our clients grow their business and, in turn, ours. What did you learn from your college tennis experience? How has it shaped your values and your business philosophy?

Mark Revermann: Usually when I read responses to questions like these, they speak to the lessons that college athletics teach in teamwork and competition. And those are, of course, true. Speaking more specifically to my on-court experience, I’d have to say one of the best lessons I took with me and continue to apply in my competitive business environment is the reality that the most gifted or talented player doesn’t necessarily win the match.

Tennis is a fascinating sport because it’s filled with all types of psychology and intangible elements that greatly affect the momentum of any given competition. Many of my college coach’s finest moments were laying out a strategy for me that dismantled a specific player’s comfort zone or neutralized his best shots. I wasn’t athletically gifted, but I won matches against some players who, on paper, should have handled me easily in straights sets. At the same time, I’ve been humbled by weaker players who executed a smarter game plan and exposed my weakness (deep, loopy backhands).

The lesson can be directly applied to the business world. I’ve seen some incredibly intelligent executives falter in a client presentation due to poor preparation or much larger, publicly-traded agencies lose pitches to the little guys simply because they couldn’t deliver a focused strategy that the client could grasp and take action. Tennis discipline and business discipline are pretty similar. Preparation, work ethic and an attention to detail will yield success at any level. Who have been your biggest influences in your career?

Mark Revermann: My mom is just about the toughest person I know. Raising me as a single mother, English as her second language and a few other adversities, she really taught me not only a great work ethic but, more importantly, how to hustle and survive, no matter what life throws your way. She introduced me to tennis, was at every match she could come to and worked that much harder to get me an extra private or group lesson a month; whatever it took. Even on my toughest day personally or at the job, I’m inspired just thinking about how my mom could find a solution if she was in my shoes and keep moving forward. Do you have any advice for current college players who are interested in giving back to the game of tennis?

Mark Revermann: There are many options for affluent families to get into the sport of tennis: academies, camps, private clubs, etc. There are far fewer tennis introductions for communities that are socio-economically challenged. I feel that this is the real opportunity for the sport. Tennis needs more young adults with a passion to take what they learned throughout their athletic careers and to pass on to these communities. For our program, the expectation isn’t to create junior Agassis out of every child taught but to introduce something new that they may have never been offered and that they can, in turn, take with them for the rest of their lives. The hope is that with programs like the Pilsen Junior Tennis Camp, the impassioned athletes will grasp onto the sport and integrate into the more established competitive settings, like USTA sanctioned tournaments. But the mentorship experience alone will enrich all children and also that of the former college player.

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