By Karen Ronney
Tennis is one of the many blessings that Victor R. Stern is grateful for in life. At age 95, he has enjoyed the sport for over seven decades and it is his pleasure to pay it forward to the next generation. As such, it is the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation’s honor to present two junior players with the 2023 Victor Stern Scholarship Grant. The Stern family and the SCTA Foundation have selected Celeste Deleon and Mathias Simon as the 2023 award recipients.
“The Southern California Tennis Association Foundation is proud to partner with the Stern Family to help launch kids dreams,” said Linda Milan, the Executive Director of the SCTA Foundation. “By helping young players who have a passion for tennis and show effort and determination, we are impacting the next generation of future leaders.”
Victor Stern picked up a racket at age 11 and learned the game at Lincoln Park in Santa Monica. It was considered the mecca of Los Angeles tennis in that era. Through his teen years, he rallied with champions Pancho Gonzales and Pancho Segura at that facility. From 1943 to 1946, Stern became a teammate of UCLA legendary men’s tennis coach Glenn Bassett when they attended Santa Monica High. After graduation, Stern joined the Air Force from 1948 to 1952, while Bassett went into the world of coaching. Stern then became an Aerospace foreman but always maintained a deep appreciation for the game of tennis. Now Stern and his family are paying it forward to support the next generation of junior players with the scholarship program in partnership with the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation.
Every year, the Victor Stern Scholarship Grant honors one boy and girl up to age 18 who have a passion for tennis and wish to pursue the sport. They must have a record of competitive play, a strong desire to continue playing, and a goal of pursuing a post-high school education.
“Victor R. Stern was a passionate tennis player in the Southern California of the 1940’s and for the next 70 years, he played regularly as a serious recreational player,” said Victor’s son, Gary Stern. “For his 90th birthday, my sister Rochelle and I wanted to honor our dad’s love of tennis and our dad by offering modest financial help to young students with a similar passion for the sport.”
Recently, Stern family and the SCTA Foundation enjoyed an award presentation lunch at Kalavaras Restaurant in Redondo Beach to honor this year’s scholarship winners.
Meet Celeste Deleon:
Celeste Deleon, 15, is a member of the girls’ varsity team at Saint Joseph High in Long Beach. The sophomore started playing tennis as a freshman. She practiced with her dad and quickly improved her skills. She also took lessons from the Semurana Tennis Association. Deleon went from being a substitute in the doubles line up last year to earning starting position for her team this season.
“At first I was playing doubles with a skilled girl, and I didn’t know what to do, which cost us the match,” Deleon said. “I didn’t have the same level of experience as she did. I felt awful and I thought that maybe if I had better tennis skills, we would have at least won more points or games. I told my mom I wanted to get better at tennis.”
After taking lessons and hours of training at the Semurana Tennis Association, Deleon was thrilled to see her tennis fundamentals blossom.
“I was rusty at first, but as the months went by, I improved,” Deleon said. “My serves were going in, my backhand was getting better and my volleys were incredible. I watched professional tennis matches on television to study the techniques of top players and gain inspiration.”
The practice paid off. This fall, Deleon helped her school qualify for the CIF Southern Section Division 5 team championships.
“I am really happy with my progress throughout the matches and practices,” Deleon said. “I have continuously improved my skills and adapted to different playing styles. Moving forward, I have high expectations for myself and aim to maintain this level of performance in future competitions. With each game, I strive to push my limits and achieve even greater results.”
Deleon excels on and off the tennis court. She maintains a 3.75 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), plays in a youth orchestra, and sings in a choir. She volunteers her time to perform for senior homes, at community events and at her church. She is also the eldest child in a family of five and helps at home.
“I have assumed a lot of responsibility and have consistently worked to set a good example for my younger siblings,” she said. “My love of tennis has given me the discipline and dedication I need, but it has also helped me connect with my siblings, who have the same interests. I hope to get better and better as I keep going from this day forward. One day soon I will compete in tennis tournaments.”
Meet Mathias Simon
Mathias Simon is working his way up through the USTA youth progression program with perfection. The 9-year-old from Long Beach first picked up a racket at age 5 and found his sport. He joined USTA So Cal’s Junior Team Tennis orange ball program with the Valter Paiva Tennis Academy and helped his team to a top finish. When he moved up to green ball, he had success there too. He was selected for Early Development Camps as well as the 2023 Green and Yellow Ball Grand Prix Boys 10-and-under series. In the past 13 months, Simon has won over 26 first-place trophies for his efforts.
Recently, Simon placed first in the 2023 Little Mo Internationals in singles and doubles in the 9-year-old division, and he was second in the mixed doubles division for 10-year-olds. He said he has three big goals. The first is to win the Little Mo International Grand Slam, in which the winner receives a six-foot trophy. His long-term goals are to play high school and then college tennis. He eventually become a touring professional.
“I am planning to achieve these goals with hard work, determination and dedication,” Simon said. “It means countless hours of practice, and more practice, and also I will participate in many tournaments.”
Simon excels in school maintaining a 4.0 GPA and he participates in community efforts such as beach clean ups.
“I am dedicated to tennis,” Simon said. “I will never give up and will work hard to achieve my dreams and goals.”
Outstanding student athletes like Deleon and Simon are leaders in the So Cal tennis community because they display the desire, effort and determination to succeed on the tennis court, in school and life. The SCTA Foundation and the Victor R. Stern family is proud to join force to help “Lauch Kids’ Dreams”, which is the focus for 2024.
“Our family’s discovery that the SCTA, the singular voice for tennis in Southern California, has a foundation that mirrored what we wanted to do,” said Gary Stern. “It was a great blessing. While our dad is not a public figure in the world of tennis, he is still vibrant age 95. He loves the idea that even he can make a difference in the lives of young student athletes.”
The Victor Stern Scholarship Grant is offered one time per year in late summer. Junior applicants are encouraged to apply next year. To see more of the SCTA Foundation’s scholarship and grant opportunities, please go to SCTAFoundation.org/scholarships/. Please consider a donation gift to help us continue to #LaunchKidsDreams in 2024 and beyond.
About the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation:
We are a 501c3 nonprofit organization and is the charitable arm of USTA Southern California. The Foundation’s mission is to “Change lives and build communities through tennis.” Since 2020, the SCTA Foundation has had a community impact of giving over $1million in tennis grants and tennis scholarships to deserving youth, adults, tennis organizations, tennis facilities and tennis programs to make tennis an equal opportunity sport, accessible to all, regardless of age, ability, ethnicity, or economic background. Visit us on Social Media on Instagram and Facebook. To learn more about the SCTA Foundation go to: www.sctafoundation.org. To donate go to: sctafoundation.org/donate/ or https://secure.qgiv.com/for/sctfougivtue.