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Middle School Club Team Launches

Dear Friends,

The idea to create a Middle School Club Team was born last year when Advantage Cleveland Tennis and Education (AdvantageCLE) secured funding from USTA Midwest and USTA Foundation to ensure that our after-school students would have the ability to play on “real” courts this year after years of playing in their school gym on mini-nets.

Through a partnership with Cleveland State (CSU) Coach Brian Etzkin and his Division 1 Men's Team, our Cleveland Metropolitan School (CMSD) partner school Mary B. Martin Elementary, and the Say Yes to Education program, we were able to secure transportation and a one-hour per-week court time. We hired Coach Jeff Williams to teach our beginners, and recruited additional volunteers including board members and even special guest USTA Northeastern Ohio Executive Director Michael Kramer.

On day one, we started with only four of our middle school students. Coach Etzkin and six of his Division 1 Men’s Team players joined us to coach the students. At that moment, we knew that we had to spread the resources to reach more middle schoolers. We started to visit each of the Hough area schools, discussing the opportunities that tennis could provide students by the time they got to high school. Soon, we had more students trying the Monday clinics, and by the end of December, the CSU courts were full.

Coach Etzkin said, “Working with Advantage Cleveland and their middle school program has been a great way to give back to the community. I think there has been a lot of learning on both sides of the net. The middle schoolers are getting to learn a new skill on the Cleveland State University campus. The CSU Tennis student-athletes get to be role-models and teachers for kids who haven't had the opportunity to play tennis before. It's been a very rewarding experience for me and the team and we are just getting started!"

On April 17th, we plan to have our first Middle School Club Team Challenge. At this event, students will compete in a skills challenge for their school, and local high school coaches can visit to learn more about our pilot program and connect with students. More importantly, we hope to show administrators that we intend to grow this program to give more students the opportunity to learn the sport. These opportunities elevate a student’s options to play and compete at the high school level. Already, we know we have already doubled the number of students who were playing tennis in the Cleveland schools.

In the Cleveland Metropolitan District, which is comprised of approximately 35,000 students, there are fewer than 50 playing the sport of tennis at the high school level. We discovered that there are only five girls’ teams and six boys’ teams across the city. After interviewing the high school coaches, they told us that many of their players are only learning how to play when they get to high school, and coaches are recruiting students out of their classrooms to try the sport. Often, high school coaches are teaching new players, so the students rarely achieve high performance levels of play. It is clear that the opportunities for scholarships or college level spots may not be available to these players, since a pathway to learn the sport with middle school teams does not readily exist.

But we can change that.

Not only are we seeing a difference in the few months that we have been working with the students, but now we can create a plan to grow this pilot program into an intramural sport across different neighborhoods. The problem is that there are just not enough indoor courts available.

So we need to dream big. We need to imagine a future where we have our own space and bring students to us. We need to think about a future in which players have more than one hour of coaching available to them, so that we can create a pathway to high performance tennis in which colleges may look at players for scholarship opportunities. And we need to dream of a time when we might have the space to offer academic support in the after-school hours in addition to coaching them.

Other cities and organizations have been able to achieve this. Cleveland’s tennis community can come together and make this happen. We could be at the beginning of something great. We have already doubled the number of students playing tennis in the city schools in a few short months. What can we do in the next few years if we dream and then work together?

We look forward to what we can do with this program next year and in the years to come.

Thanks for being our partners in transforming the game in Cleveland.

Stay tuned for more!

All my best,


Liz Deegan

Executive Director


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