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Playing for a Cause


By Jonathon Braden, USTA South Carolina


CAYCE, S.C. – Caroline King of Columbia doesn’t play a lot of USTA adult tournaments. But when she does, she prefers tournaments that benefit a charity instead of solely the facility or club hosting the event.

King, of Columbia, likes how she can use tennis, a sport she loves, to help a bigger cause.

“The fact that they give back and do something for people, it just gives them more meaning,” King said.King_head

She has company. More and more people are playing in tournaments that benefit a worthwhile cause or local charity in South Carolina. And more tournament directors are tapping into that market and choosing to partner with local nonprofit organizations.

In 2006, about 400 people participated in the meager two USTA-sanctioned tournaments in the state that benefited a special cause. Last year, though, South Carolina tennis clubs and facilities hosted 10 USTA-sanctioned tournaments that benefited an outside organization.

In 2015, the number of participants also jumped to 1,214, a more than 200 percent increase from 2006.

“People want to play for a cause, and they find it more meaningful,” said Patrick Yackmack, manager of tournaments and player development for USTA South Carolina, the state office of the U.S. Tennis Association.

Recent research shows people, especially Millennials, now the largest generation in the U.S., also hold strong support for social causes.

A 2013 report from Achieve and the Case Foundation found that nearly 75 percent of Millennials, people born between 1982 and 2004, who were surveyed had volunteered for a nonprofit organization. Almost 80 percent of the Millennials surveyed also had expressed a passion for a cause or issue.

Charity tournaments can appeal to that casual player who might be more interested in the cause than the tennis. The tournaments also would interest the more serious tennis player as well, Yackmack said.

“It connects two different reasons to play,” he said.

King, along with 112 other people, recently played in the Luv for Babcock Charity Adult Tournament, which was held last month at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center. Tournament proceeds, more than $7,000, were donated to the Babcock Center Foundation, which funds the Babcock Center.

The center provides vocational training and work opportunities for about 800 people with lifelong disabilities in Richland and Lexington Counties. The organization’s mission is especially meaningful to King, who said she has a brother-in-law with special needs.

“Babcock is pretty close to my heart,” she said.

To help the tournament keep its costs minimal, tournament director Paola Maoli and referee Mary Anna Scott both donated their time, and the center received donated beer for the players.

The tournament had yet to officially begin under a fading sun and with breezy weather when one woman inquired about the aforementioned beverage.

“Paola, is the free beer here yet?”

“No, not yet,” Maoli said.

“I can’t play without my beer first,” the woman joked.

Maoli and others had reasons to later celebrate with a beverage: The 113 players participating marked their best turnout yet for the tournament.

Maoli, along with volunteer and frequent USTA League player Donna Saleeby, who helped promote the event, also credited increased marketing efforts for the tournament’s uptick in participation.

For Carrie Deaton, seeing the tournament thrive has been a project she’s wanted to achieve for eight years. About that long ago, Deaton, the director of the Babcock Center Foundation, kept seeing nonprofit organizations host basketball or baseball tournaments.

She also kept hearing people talk about how tennis was thriving in South Carolina. That’s when she asked herself, Why aren’t we tapping into that potential donor base and hosting a tennis tournament?

The next year, in 2013, she partnered with the Cayce facility to host the charity tennis tournament. Deaton, like others, thinks there’s just a little something extra at a tournament that benefits a charity.

“There’s something about knowing you’re helping someone else,” she said.