Though the Australian Open just came to a close, tennis fans flocked to one of the largest sporting events much closer to home for the US Open several months ago as they cheered on tennis legends battling it out on the courts. Approximately 700,000 people attend this two-week tournament and, Great Neck South High School ninth-grader Sophia Schutte was among them—but she didn’t have to buy a ticket. As one of the winners in the 18th annual National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) Arthur Ashe Essay Contest, Schutte and nine others won a weekend of US Open activities.
The USTA Foundation, the national charitable organization of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), combined with the NJTL, a national network of 500 community-based tennis and education programs serving more than 225,000 youth, to become a fully operational foundation in January 2014. This year’s NJTL essay contest focused on tennis legend and pioneer Althea Gibson, whose unwavering strength and courage in the face of adversity enabled her to become a trailblazer in the world of tennis as the first African-American Grand Slam and U.S. Championships winner. More than 2,800 short essays written by 10 to 18 year olds were submitted nationwide, addressing the question: How have your skills in tennis impacted the development of your character, and how do you address your personal challenges on and off the court?
One of only 10 children across the country to write an award-winning essay, Schutte, who hails from Thomaston, said that she wrote about how tennis teaches her life lessons outside of playing the game.
“I also wrote about in order for me to play tennis, I need to apply myself to my studies,” explained the 14 year old, who’s a member of the NYJTL Tournament Team at the Cary Leeds Center. “[Tennis] has also taught me how to overcome adversities,” just like Althea Gibson. In her concluding remarks, Schutte wrote that tennis had, above all, taught her self-confidence. “I see a difference in the way I approach things in my life. I know in my heart that I have the courage and ability to succeed if I prepare, work hard and believe in myself.”
And succeed she has. According to USTA Foundation Executive Director Dan Faber, “This year’s Arthur Ashe Essay Contest winners consist of a talented group of students from some of our most outstanding NJTL programs. This year’s responses were some of the most phenomenal ones we’ve read as they truly highlighted their individual experiences and personal strengths as a result of the positive impact tennis has had on their lives. We are proud of their hard work.”
Schutte and the other winners enjoyed a busy weekend with a two-night stay at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, VIP status during the 2016 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and an awards luncheon at the Yale Club, hosted by USTA Foundation Chairman and former World No. 4 James Blake and former New York City Mayor and USTA Board Member David Dinkins. At the luncheon, the essay contest winners each received an honorary plaque.
“We had to give a speech, and a lot of people were there, including the mayor,” Schutte said, adding that it was a great experience and she enjoyed meeting the other winners of the contest.
A regular attendee of the US Open, Schutte has loved the sport long before she even knew what it was. “[When] I was very young, about four years old, during the winter it would be snowing and me and my dad would be entertaining ourselves, because it was too cold out, by playing—but I didn’t know it at the time—tennis over the coffee table using balloons and instruments like flutes [as rackets],” she recalled. “A year later, my dad was watching a tennis tournament on TV and I asked what it was. When he said ‘tennis,’ I was surprised because I didn’t know that’s what tennis was, and I said ‘I want to do that.’”
Since then, she’s been attending NYJTL in the Bronx, which she describes as a great program, and is trying out for the girls’ varsity tennis team at South High. In addition to her love of all things tennis, Schutte also enjoys creative writing and science, and hopes to pursue a degree in science in addition to playing tennis in college.
To learn more about the USTA Foundation, visit www.ustafoundation.com. Find out more about the annual essay contest at www.arthurashe.org/arthur-ashe-essay-and-art-contest.html.
Aditya Kaul “Adi” Gupta winner for the 10 and Under division of the NJTL Essay Contest
Aditya Kaul “Adi” Gupta winner for the 10 and Under division of the NJTL Essay Contest
Thousands of young tennis players across the country entered and only 10 came away winners of the 19th Annual USTA Foundation NJTL Essay Contest. One boy and one girl from each age division (18U, 16U, 14U, 12U and 10U) took home the coveted prize- round-trip tickets and hotel for two to New York City and VIP status in the President’s Box during the 2017 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day on August 26, the weekend before the US Open.
Aditya Kaul “Adi” Gupta, of Brookline, MA and representing Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester, MA, was selected as the Boys’ 10 and Under division winner for his inspiring story on what tennis has taught him and on playing the game the right way.
“We couldn’t have had a better winner for the 10 and Under division of the NJTL Essay Contest to represent our New England Section than Adi,” said Chantal Roche, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for USTA New England. “His passion for the game is unparalleled and he truly exemplifies what it means to be a sportsman. We are so proud of the young man he is becoming and the example he sets for so many young players every day.”
“It feels natural to me to draw life lessons from what I learn while playing tennis. Tennis is not just about being able to hit the ball hard and win games,” Adi said. “I have learned important mental skills from tennis that I will need off the court. Those are the lessons that define a true tennis player.”
Each participant was asked to answer the following question in 350 words or less: In addition to tennis, education and life skills are extremely important to the development of our youth. Which one of the three components above is most important to you, and how will it help you throughout your life?
Adi answered “life skills,” noting grit, perseverance and not letting a loss get him down as three of his biggest takeaways from tennis thus far.
“In tennis and in life, you can’t win all the time,” he wrote in his essay. “Tennis teaches me not to let a loss get me down, but to concentrate on the next point or next match, and then later think about how I can get better. I hope that this helps me develop the same skills in life.”
Adi has a true passion for tennis and has since he was just three years old when his family lived in Georgia.
“My parents tell me that when I was just a toddler, I would drag them to the Georgia Tennis courts in Decatur on our evening walk and fall asleep on the sidelines. I started playing tennis at the age of 3 on those courts,” he said.
Tennis hasn’t just become Adi’s favorite sport, but favorite activity, and it’s the time he looks forward to most when planning his day. He currently plays 4-5 days a week, 3-4 of which are at Sportsmen’s.
“Sportsmen’s has exposed me to a very competitive environment with lots of good players and great physical fitness training,” Adi said. “It has made me a stronger and more strategic player, and it has done so through friendly competition in a fun environment, which is very important to me. The credit goes to the nice coaches who are very encouraging. They are great teachers.”
Adi also referenced sportsmanship and honesty as critical life skills he’s learned through tennis.
“Tennis players are sometimes responsible for calling the ball on their own side, and it’s a point of pride for me to call it correctly even if that means the call goes against me,” Adi wrote. “Win or lose, I do not like excessive displays of emotion and I respect my opponent’s feelings. I think practicing honesty and being respectful of others are perhaps the most important things learn from playing tennis.”
“The values that Adi talks about in his essay come from him. It’s in his nature to strive to be honest and good. At home, we try to provide a nurturing environment where those values are encouraged,” said his mother, Rina.
Adi, along with the nine other national winners, will be recognized at an awards luncheon on Sunday, August 27, co-hosted by USTA Foundation Chairman of the Board James Blake and former New York City Mayor and Honorary Board Member David N. Dinkins. The luncheon will be held at the Yale Club, where the essay contest winners will receive an honorary plaque.
He shared his excitement on the trip as a whole.
“I’m incredibly excited for the trip, especially because I will get to meet Mrs. Jeanne Ashe. I read a book about Mr. Arthur Ashe in fourth grade and really liked it,” Adi said. “He treasured being a good person, and I feel the same way. It’s more important to be honorable and honest than to win. If I get the opportunity, I want to ask Mrs. Ashe to tell me interesting stories about her husband so I can get to know more about him.”
Adi concluded his essay by saying, “I hope that I go on to being the greatest tennis player of my time, but if I do not, a lifetime of playing tennis will help me develop wonderful life skills.”
Adi was one of six New England contest winner who competed for the national prize. The other five New England winners are listed below:
Boys’ 12 and Under: Wens Bien-Aime (Norwalk Grassroots Tennis)
Boys’ 14 and Under: Tushar Aggarwal (Sportsmen’s)
Girls’ 10 and Under: Noelia Ames (Sportsmen’s)
Girls’ 12 and Under: Ricio Mata (Sportsmen’s)
Girls’ 14 and Under: Yasmine Queen (Sportsmen’s)