Why A Teen Tennis Tournament?
Recognizing the popularity of tennis among people of all ages and the close interrelationship between eyesight and the sport, the RSI Board, at the suggestion of RSI Vice-President Hillard Welch, an avid tennis player, decided that a tennis tournament would be an excellent fund-raiser AND a great way of educating the public about the importance of good eyesight both in the sport and in life overall. Because the young are more susceptible to eye injuries, it was decided that the tournament be limited to youth in the age range of 10 to 18 years.
But how to make this a truly unique, one-of-a-kind tournament that would attract potential participants? The ready answer was: link sportsmanship to education, which is a major component of RSI’s charter, via grants of academic scholarships to tournament winners.
Thus, the RSI 20/20 Sight Saver Teen Tennis Tournament was launched in August 2010 at the Mid-Cape Racquet & Health Club in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, spearheaded by Hillard W. Welch, under the direction of Nate Reinhart, Director of the Tennis Program at the Racquet Club. That the tournament would take place in Cape Cod, a popular vacation destination, was of course an added attraction. That first tournament drew 28 contestants. Its immediate objectives were to educate the players and their parents about the importance of proper protective eyewear while playing tennis and other racquet sports and to highlight the crucial linkage between good vision and the ability to play these sports.
The unquestioned success of the tournament encouraged the RSI Board’s no-brainer decision to make it an annual Cape Cod event. The fifth tournament took place in August 2014. While majority of the contestants are Massachusetts residents, some have come from as far away as California and England. Not only has the number of contestants quadrupled, but it is also worth noting that the tournament has been recognized by the United States Tennis Association (USTA). The recognition is an implicit affirmation of the tournament’s direct linkage to education. The RSI 20/20 Sight Saver Teen Tennis Tournament is the first and only tennis tournament to place great emphasis on the interrelationship between the sport and good eyesight, and the academic scholarship awards to winning contestants appears to be a unique incentive among youth tennis tournaments worldwide. Corporate and individual donors have supported the program including Children’s Hospital Boston and the Tufts New England Eye Center. Local merchants and businesses have also supported the tournament by purchasing ads in the Official Program or donating products for the competitors’ use.
The contestants are divided into four age groups: 10 to 12, 12 to 14, 14 to 16, and 16 to 18, with separate sections for boys and girls. For three days, they battle it out on the courts of the Mid-Cape Racquet Club. All players are provided safety eyewear, as well as educational materials on eye care, including eye problems and disorders, and basic eye safety. They also receive a T-shirt with the RSI logo and the year of the tournament imprinted.
The winners and runners-up in each category receive academic scholarships of $500 for first-placers and $250 for second-placers, respectively. Funds are deposited in an educational account with Fidelity Investments where they remain for safekeeping until such time that the winners enroll at a college or university. Upon certification of their matriculation, RSI immediately issues a check to the selected institution in the appropriate amount for each winner. As of 2013, eight boys and eight girls have received the $500 and $250 scholarship awards, of whom three winners have gone on to college.