LUTZ — Jeanette Marcus wants to develop east Pasco County into a force in the tennis world, but she can't do it without the right help.
On Sunday, Marcus traveled a few miles south of the county line to Avila Country Club for a charity tennis exhibition, featuring world class professional John Isner. The Ace for the Cure was a relaxing day of play to benefit the Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance. By popping up at such events, Marcus promotes what she thinks is a crucial point of view for Pasco County tennis.
"We don't have the USTA facilities in east Pasco outside of Saddlebrook and Lake Jovita right now, but those are private clubs with their own obligations," said Marcus, 52, an assistant pro at Lake Jovita.
A native of Harlem, N.Y., Marcus didn't begin to learn tennis until 2000 — so the cause of bringing tennis to under-served communities is close to her heart.
"For me to be here at this event is a way to network and show a Pasco presence at a local USTA event, which doesn't come around very often," she said. "The more tennis people I meet, the more possibility I'll meet someone that wants to help develop the sport and facilities in east Pasco."
Since moving to Dade City from Lutz four years ago, Marcus has developed grass roots efforts to promote the sport in the area. At Lake Jovita, she created a 92-player adult match play league and has successfully co-founded Tennis Para Ti (Tennis for You), a group dedicated to bringing tennis to the Latino community.
She is in the process of becoming USTA and USPTA certified so she can create her own programs in east Pasco. In January, she will ask the Dade City Commission to seek USTA certification for another court.
"There are lots of private clubs where people can play, but we need to develop more community tennis programs that reach out to people who maybe don't get to play at clubs," Marcus said. "I'm trying to get an age 10 and under program started up at Price Park in Dade City. I did a demographic study last year and showed the USTA that there are thousands of kids in east Pasco alone that aren't getting any tennis."
Michael Vallillo is Marcus' partner in Tennis Para Ti and thinks that her hard work and networking skills, combined with outreach to areas where the sport hasn't taken root, will help tennis flourish in east Pasco.
"By working together we're able to offer Spanish-speaking coaching to people who normally can't find that," Vallillo said. "There is a certain type of coach needed and we can help provide that. Jeanette is really the expert when it comes to growing the sport in the area but I think it will help that we are opening it up to the Spanish-speaking community, which has been somewhat overlooked when it comes to tennis."
Roger Cypriano, head tennis pro at Avila Country Club, thinks that partnerships throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco will be the key to providing more tennis opportunities for young people.
"I live in Wesley Chapel so I'm very familiar with the Pasco tennis scene, but the issue that we have as pros in the area is time," Cypriano said. "We all work so many hours and we get tied up working in our own little markets, but if we can make the time to work together, we can really help each other, we can certainly help the sport grow.
"Today is a great example of all of us in the tennis community connecting and working together to make something happen."