The United States Professional Tennis Association recently awarded Carmel Valley resident Shelley Susman their Star Award for her advancements in grassroots tennis in the United Kingdom.
The USPTA, one of the world's largest and oldest associations of tennis teaching professionals, held a ceremony on Sept. 24 in San Marco Island, Fla., to honor Susman and other award winners. The Star Award specifically honors pros that make a difference in their communities through the sport of tennis.
"It was quite a shock actually," said Susman. "It was really neat to be nominated and the more tennis professionals to win that award the better."
Susman, who is a San Diego native, moved to Carmel Valley from England in February with her two children.
Tennis has always been a part of Susman's life. She was the daughter of two tennis pros, Rod and Karen. Her mother Karen Hantze won four Wimbeldon titles, one singles in 1962 and three in doubles with Billie Jean King. Her last Grand Slam title was in 1980, when she won the U.S. Open.
Susman said she wasn't pushed into the sport at all — it just came naturally to her. She played for San Diego State and had success on one of the nation's top teams. She took a break after college but got back into the sports as she began teaching.
She now teaches lessons at San Dieguito Tennis Club and gets games in with her parents — now in their 60s and living in Rancho Santa Fe — about three or four times a week.
Susman's Star Award stemmed from her grassroots tennis efforts while living in the UK for the last four years. Susman started out with just a net on the street, enticing children who had nothing to do but hang out in parking lots to come and play tennis.
"My house was like a library where kids could check out tennis rackets," Susman said.
From there, she took a look at local parks, how children had an interest to play but couldn't afford to rent the courts. She said there was a great local recreation facility with a court that hardly anyone was on because they didn't want to pay. She said she'd see people sneak onto the courts at closing time.
Susman lobbied the rec center to set up a free festival for children to play tennis that got recognized by the BBC News and drew a crowd of about 1,000.
She moved on to get local schools involved and set up a Tennis for Free program, where an organization paid for court maintenance for two years and offered free lessons.
Susman earned her USTPA award for her work across the pond but said she hopes to bring some of her methods to Carmel Valley, where there are no free places to play tennis in local parks.
The courts at the Carmel Valley Recreation Center are privately owned and do not offer free play to residents, neighboring schools or the Boys and Girls Club.
Maintenance costs for courts are minimal and she hopes she can get local businesses or other groups to sponsor free tennis time.
"Why should tennis be taxed?" asked Susman. "We need to have free places so kids that want to be active can be active."
Anyone interested in helping with Susman's free tennis cause can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.