By Karen Ronney
Summer is the season when kids can make great memories by participating in youth tennis camps. It can be half day or full day experiences and fun is the key factor. This year, the SCTA Foundation was proud to offer that opportunity to six players in Southern California through the Henry Talbert Summer Tennis Camp Scholarship Grant program.
The Talbert Grant supports junior tennis players between the ages of 8 and 16, who demonstrate a commitment to improving their tennis. The award was named after the late Henry Talbert, USTA So Cal Executive Director from 1997 to 2013. Henry had a heart of gold and led with kindness and compassion making life better for all who knew him. This grant was created in his honor, and as such it was designed to enrich and elevate others through the sport of tennis.
The following juniors were selected for their passion for tennis and drive to succeed. Their stories are compelling. In some cases, names have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.
James, Age 13
The sport of tennis can bring peace to one’s life. For a 13-year-old from Southern California, that’s exactly what it does. To protect his identity, we will call this grant recipient James, and his Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) will be named Robert. James was raised by a single-parent mother, who did her best to provide a home. A few years ago, however, circumstances changed and James’ mother was incarcerated for an extended length of time. His father was not in his life. James was placed into the Foster Care System and lived with several different families. However, James was lucky. One of the families enjoyed tennis and introduced him to the sport. He learned the game and has since become a skilled player.
“Tennis is a good distraction from the other things in my life,” James said. “I’ve learned to have patience and a positive attitude. It sounds like fun to play tennis in high school and college. I’d like to do that. My goal is to be a professional tennis player.”
James received the Henry Talbert Summer Tennis Camp Scholarship Grant this summer and was given 10 days to attend a local camp. Due to his unique circumstances, he was able to stagger his tennis camp days throughout the summer depending on transportation from Robert, his CASA representative. James had a wonderful time at camp and was able to develop his skills and fuel his passion for tennis
“I’m just like a friend to James,” Robert said. “I met him a year and a half ago during the middle of the Covid pandemic. The first time we talked was on Face Time. Later we met in person. Since then, we’ve been meeting about every week and spending time together. A lot of it revolves around tennis but sometimes we talk about school or life. Tennis is a positive piece within that setting but the life skill conversations are more important. I’m happy to be there for him.”
This year, the SCTA Foundation gave James an extra helping hand. As an event sponsor for the San Diego Open, the SCTA Foundation invited James and Robert to see the pro matches at Barnes Tennis Center. Unbeknownst to James, several tennis vendors, organizers and sponsors joined forces to make it an amazing life experience he will never forget.
Tecnifiber was the official partner of the ATP San Diego Open and Tecnifiber stringer Jay Lewandowski presented James with a brand new and freshly strung TF-X1 300 racket.
Then, organizers from the San Diego Open arranged for James to hit with tennis professional Joe Salisbury of Great Britain (No. 3 ATP Tour Doubles) and the eventual winner of the men’s doubles event with partner Neal Skupski. Salisbury also won the 2021 US Open Men’s and Mixed Doubles Championships, as well as the 2020 Australian Open Men’s Double Title.
After hitting with Salisbury, James rallied with American pro Chris Eubanks (No. 160 ATP Tour Singles), who recently won the ATP Knoxville Challenger singles tournament.
Others at the event excited to meet James was Linda Milan, Executive Director of the SCTA Foundation, and Trevor Kronemann, the Executive Director of USTA Southern California Section.
“James had a great time at the event and it was evident by the big smile on his face,” said Linda Milan, the Executive Director for the SCTA Foundation. “He was confident and brave on the court hitting with the pros. I think it was an incredible experience that possibly changed his life.”
Denise Campbell of Riverside, Age 16
Denise won the Sunbelt League singles championship an d was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. The junior from John W. North High School earned First-Team All-Sunbelt League Honors and was undefeated in play. “Being the league champion after I was down a set was indescribable,” Campbell said. “But going to the semifinals of CIF with my team was amazing and an experience all on its own.”
Jeselle Ante of Riverside, Age 15
Jeselle had a great year winning the UTR Girls 17U Junior Nationals and she earned a spot in the USTA Girls 16s/18s Nationals. She will represent Team SoCal in the L2 Intersectional Team Pacific Cup this month. “I’m so grateful for the people that I’ve met on the way,” she said. “Like my dad says, the people you meet on the way up are the people you will meet on the way down. You have to be humble, and you have to learn when to be stubborn.”
Leila Wilkerson of Moreno Valley, Age 15
Leila played on the JV high school tennis team at Martin Luther King High School in Riverside. She is passionate about the tennis and has made great strides. Her goal is to keep improving and work to play college tennis. “Her strength is her perseverance and she never gives up,” said her mother, Maggie Wilkerson. “When she has a goal she goes full force.”
Other scholarship recipients were Olivia Gosling and Yarel Gonzales (shown above), who both train at Barnes Tennis Center, and Luna Piccone.
ABOUT THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TENNIS ASSOCIATION FOUNDATION
Our mission of “Changing Lives and Communities through Tennis,” serves as a pathway to offer financial support to individuals and organizations. We are a 501©3 nonprofit organization and the charitable arm of USTA Southern California. We help people of all ages and abilities to improve their health, fitness and quality of life through the sport of tennis. Founded in 1986, the SCTA Foundation has had a community impact of giving more than $500,000 this year through grants, scholarships, program support, equipment and more to recipients throughout Southern California. To learn more about the SCTA Foundation, please visit sctafoundation.org. To donate CLICK HERE