In honor of Black History Month, USTA New England is spotlighting African-American leaders who have had an impact on the game of tennis. In this feature, we are proud to highlight Toni Wiley, Executive Director of Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center in Dorchester, MA. She has been the driving force in transforming the first non-profit indoor tennis club built in the United States by and for the African-American community into the Nationally-recognized establishment it is today.
Q & A with Toni Wiley:
What are your roles in the tennis community and why are they so important to you?
I have the pleasure of serving as Executive Director of Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center. I also serve on a number of boards and committees, all working to grow the game of tennis, including the USTA New England Board of Directors and the USTA National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) Committee. These roles are important to me because tennis still maintains some of the stigma of being a sport for players of privilege and not really a part of underserved communities. Having come to understand the opportunities that tennis affords to young and mature players, it’s important to me to help it grow in my neighborhood and in similar cities and organizations around the country.
What does it mean to you to be a leader in the tennis community, specifically in New England?
Sportsmen’s was the first non-profit indoor tennis club built in the United States by and for the African-American community. It’s an honor to be an African-American woman chargedwith the responsibility of maintaining this organization and growing its reach and impact. This goes well beyond a typical job or source of income for me. Many of the families we serve would never find their way onto a tennis court if not for Sportsmen’s. We provide access to other resources, such as academic enrichment, social development and wellness programs that play a crucial role in this community. To lead an organization with a staff and board that reflect the diversity of the Boston area is crucial.
Was there a player/role model you specifically looked up to who helped guide you to where you are today?
I didn’t play tennis as a child, or even as an adult, before coming to Sportsmen’s. So the role models I look up to the most would be Jim and Gloria Smith, who founded Sportsmen’s. Everything we do today is really just to live up to their vision as tennis being a vehicle to open doors of opportunity for Boston youth. Every time one of our kids competes at their best, graduates on time, or takes their place as a contributing member of society, I know that Jim and Gloria are pleased.
What can we do to get more African Americans, both youths and adults, playing tennis?
Continued outreach through non-traditional means is crucial to reaching players that haven’t been exposed to tennis in school or at other recreational outlets. We have to go to where the players are, explain the value proposition that tennis holds for fitness, enjoyment, and self-management, and then work to provide avenues for developing players to learn, play, socialize and compete. Tennis will grow through spontaneous enjoyment and sharing among players, especially those in their own community and circles of life, more than it will grow by organizations creating formal programs.
In your opinion, what has been your most meaningful contribution to the tennis community thus far?
Sportsmen’s was in danger of closing its doors 10 years ago, so the fact that we are thriving now is the best outcome I could have hoped for. Along the way, we’ve built great partnerships with the USTA, the Boston Public Schools, Boston Police Department, The Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University and others. We reach thousands of young people every year, in so many different ways, so it’s hard to state one success story that stands above the others.
USTA.com | February 19, 2019