Along with making enduring friends, in tennis, the term “connections” often means finding the right partner for doubles or a suitable opponent to make for regular play. This term certainly is apparent at Bonita Bay Club (BBC), especially in light of recent major upgrades to club facilities and the ever-rising popularity of league play. Yet, it also applies in many other ways and forms that also transcend the sport.
The three upcoming major tennis tournaments at BBC altogether afford myriad opportunities to forge connections and relationships that go far beyond the competition and who wins and loses— spanning generations and also building people’s futures.
For years, BBC has had a special bond with the FGCU tennis program which has led to member-supported scholarships that so far totals approximately $90,000. This strong association has also facilitated mentoring between many members and the student athletes to help them in their careers. It was only natural for FGCU to work with the Club to have an inaugural collegiate tournament outside their campus courts last year; the next one will be the FineMark FGCU Collegiate Open, November 1 to 3, with FGCU men’s and women’s teams taking on counterparts from the universities of Memphis, Louisville, Minnesota and Connecticut plus Purdue University, and more interaction with team members and members will take place.
Collegiate players competing in a tournament out in the community affords a different setting for coaches to get to expand their knowledge of their team members as well. “It strengthens the moral fabric between the coach and player,” cited Paula Scheb, USPTA Master Professional and director of sports at BBC.
Several BBC members hosted players from both FGCU and visiting universities last year; the practice will take place again with this edition. Shirley Baker, BBC member who heads up arranging for these short-term stays, said, “The experiences for both parties are enjoyable and memorable.”
“It’s a win-win-win for the student players, coaches and our members,” said Scheb. “Making sure there are opportunities for these connections to take place is as integral to hosting the event and making sure all of the playing conditions are optimal for the actual competition.”
For years, FGCU tennis players have been invited to compete along with outstanding area pros and other adult recreational players in the annual Naples-Fort Myers Challenge, also held at the BBC with the 39th edition set for November 16. Also, FGCU women’s tennis team coach Courtney Vernon, assistant coach Martina Fantova and now-senior team member Sara Kelly were granted wild-card entries by the BBC into the FineMark Women’s Pro Tennis Championships last May; the event will return to BBC next May 11 to 17.
Additional channel for interaction between players and members at all events, especially at the women’s pro tournament, is manifest via members serving as volunteers in everything from managing ball kids to transportation. Such efforts by members are also invaluable in ensuring the success of each event.
And in even another example of connections, several FGCU graduates have begun their professional careers by accepting positions working at the club.
While welcoming FGCU and their opponents to the BBC courts soon, the support by BBC members of the school’s tennis programs is recognized at the nearby campus as one of their courts is dedicated to the club.
“Making and expanding on these connections all help bring our membership even closer together,” added Scheb. “Members derive greater gratification and satisfaction that they are doing much more than enjoying high-caliber tennis on their own courts — they are also helping these outstanding student-athletes on their life journey.”