This is Mid-Atlantic Tennis: Mehrban Iranshad

This post is part of a series that tell the stories of how tennis has influenced people’s lives in the Mid-Atlantic Section. Meet Mehrban Iranshad from Bethesda, Md. Mehrban grew up as a competitive junior player and has found new ways to satisfy his passion for tennis as an adult. To share your story or send to someone you know, click here.

Where do you live? Where are you from?

I live in Bethesda, Maryland.  I have lived in the great state of Maryland all my life (Laurel, Silver Spring)!  Ironically, I am allergic to crabs.

How did you get started playing tennis?

My dad brought me to the tennis courts at Savage Park frequently as a little kid.  I tried other sports like basketball, soccer, and baseball, but I enjoyed tennis the most.

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Photo: Tennisfiles.com

What did you like about tennis as a junior? Is it different as an adult?

As a junior, I really enjoyed the competitive aspect of tennis, striving to win tournaments, and improving my rankings.  As an adult, I am more focused on improving my game and helping others become better players as well.

What drew you back to tennis as an adult?

After playing college tennis at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and making the NCAA DI team tournament my senior year, I took a break during law school.   Then my best friend Victor Ng told me about a Howard County USTA league team he was playing on, captained by one of the best captains of all time, Steve McCoy. I had so much fun playing in the league with such a great group of people, and it rekindled my love for tennis.

How are you currently involved in tennis?

I am heavily involved in tennis.  I host a tennis podcast (The Tennis Files Podcast), maintain a tennis blog (tennisfiles.com) to help players improve their game, host online tennis conferences (Tennis Summit), and I am the Vice President of the Montgomery County Tennis Association.  I am also an attorney at the Food and Drug Administration, so I don’t get bored too often!

What’s your favorite tennis memory?

My favorite tennis memory is placing third at the 2015 Tri-Level National Championships in Indian Wells.  Victor and I won both our doubles matches two years after a soul-crushing loss in a third-set tiebreaker in the same tournament.  It was an amazing experience to play on the same courts that the pros do, and then have the privilege to watch them compete after our own matches.  We had a fantastic team, and playing a Nationals tournament at the same time and place as one of the best and biggest professional tournaments of the year cannot be beat!

How has your relationship with tennis changed over the years? How has it impacted your life?

Tennis has evolved for me from a competitive outlet and confidence builder as a junior to a game that has helped me build some of the strongest and most important relationships in my life.  Many of my closest friends play tennis, and I owe several of my life and career advancements to my involvement in this wonderful sport.  I have improved my life drastically by implementing the lessons I have learned on the court to my life off the court.  I have met incredible friends, had long conversations with top coaches and grand slam champions, and connected with many kind people all because I was fortunate enough that my mom and dad put a racquet in my hand and continued to invest in my pursuit of the game throughout my life.  Tennis has had an extremely positive impact in my life, and I feel very lucky to be involved in the game.

The Importance of Role Models by Megan Moulton-Levy

To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in March, we’re asking several tennis players in the Mid-Atlantic – of all ages and abilities – about the importance of role models on and off the court and their own role models. 

Starting off this mini-series is Megan Moulton-Levy. Megan is currently director of mentoring at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md. She joined JTCC after playing at the College of William & Mary, where she was the four-time conference player of the year, and spending time on the professional tour. She reached a career-high doubles ranking of No. 50 in the world in 2013. 

Why is it important for kids to have strong role models?

It is important for kids to have role models as it gives them some context and reference point for setting goals and finding future success. For me, my role models were people around me who I saw and talked to on a regular basis. From my oldest sister who was a multi-sport athlete, to my father who was an Olympian, to an older girl who trained at the same club as me. When I saw something I liked I wanted to emulate it. I wanted the same one-handed backhand as the older girl who trained at my club. So much so that my one-handed backhand was my eleventh birthday present to myself. I had a strong desire to compete with the same amount of passion as my oldest sister who played on her varsity high school tennis team. My father set the standards extremely high and I was certain I wanted to be an Olympian just like him. At JTCC, the kids are fortunate enough to see Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla train. I am sure being in such close proximity to those top-level players has a profound impact on the junior players beliefs about what they can achieve.  There is a sense that they too can do it!

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Photo courtesy of JTCC

As a coach, what do you think about the idea that young players may consider you a role model?

Playing on tour sometimes felt unfulfilling, however, that time in my life gave me the unique opportunity to share my experience with the young girls and boys I work with on a daily basis. It is rewarding to be part of their journey and help them realize the importance of both big and small successes. It is a tremendous honor to be considered a role model, which is a job I do not take lightly.

What lessons from tennis will you take with you for the rest of your life?

I could write a book about all of the life lessons tennis has taught me! You have to be a little mad to pursue tennis at its highest level but I think that same madness is in anyone who wants to be great at anything. It is the little voice of discipline that makes you get up at 6 a.m. even when it is the last thing you want to do. The sacrifices, such as me never being able to attend any of my graduations because of tennis, is what I knew I needed to do in order to accomplish my goals. It took commitment, patience and trust in myself as there are never any guarantees when you commit to the journey. The belief from my support team took me to heights I never thought possible. Traveling the world playing tournaments taught me to be a global citizen who is interested in other cultures, foods and music. This perspective has allowed me to not only tolerate but appreciate differences among cultures from across the world.

What would you tell a girl who dreams of being a professional tennis player?

As Eric Butorac suggests in his Ted Talk, “Don’t Dream Big,” I would tell the girls to build an armor of confidence by dreaming small. Setting big, lofty goals can often feel daunting and overwhelming.  Setting smaller, achievable goals and making them slightly more challenging along the way will give you the resilience you need to endure the long journey of becoming a professional tennis player. I would tell them to be grateful for the small victories because if you add them up over time they will amount to HUGE victories. I would tell them to be kind to themselves because although you cannot win every time, you can always find something positive from it. I would tell them to be patient. And finally, I would tell them to be intensely inquisitive and curious about their own progress and development. Putting the process first could be the mindset that saves their tennis career and the foundation of finding success beyond the tennis court.


Check back all month long to read more stories on how having strong role models have helped and are helping girls and women in their tennis careers and their lives.

A Rich History: Celebrating Black History Month through Mid-Atlantic’s Tennis Stories

As a sport, tennis has a long and vibrant history in African-American communities across the country. The Mid-Atlantic, though, has an especially unique role historically in growing the sport among the black community and with notable individuals and organizations creating opportunities for those players. You probably know some of this history – like Grand Slam champion Arthur Ashe learning the game in his hometown of Richmond – but there are a number of lesser-known stories that make up the Mid-Atlantic’s rich history of tennis in the African-American community. To celebrate Black History Month, here is an overview of some of Mid-Atlantic’s own stories:

The American Tennis Association’s Founding: Tennis quickly gained substantial popularity within the African-American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a number of black tennis clubs had already been created across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. When the USLTA disallowed black players from participating in tournaments, the Association Tennis Club of DC and Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore decided it was time to create a national organization. On Nov. 30, 1916, representatives from those organizations and more than a dozen of other groups formed the American Tennis Association (ATA), which became the leading African-American tennis association in the US. Without the leadership from these two organizations, more valuable time would have passed before the creation of this important unifying body.

Dr. Whirlwind Johnson Created Opportunities for Youth Players from his Home in Lynchburg: Today, Dr. Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson is largely remembered for coaching the first two black Grand Slam champions – Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe – at his home in Lynchburg, Va. Dr. Johnson’s impact was so much more than coaching a select few players, though. In 1951, he held his first junior development program, a summer camp that brought together some of the top African-American juniors in Lynchburg for intensive training and travel to tournaments across the country.

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Dr. Whirlwind Johnson (third from left) has been called the “Godfather of Black Tennis” (Photo: Whirlwind Johnson Foundation)

This initiative, funded by Dr. Johnson himself, was one of the first programs that gave black children access to high-level training and opened the door for them to follow in Althea Gibson’s footsteps as a champion tennis player. In 1953, Arthur Ashe spent his first summer with Dr. Johnson, which changed the face of American tennis forever, but over the next two decades hundreds of kids experienced Dr. Johnson’s work and positive impact. By traveling to a number of cities and states, these kids also helped fully integrate the game on the local level, shortly after Gibson integrated the professional game in 1950. The Whirlwind Johnson Foundation, led by Dr. Johnson’s grandson Lange, is currently working to restore the historic court in Lynchburg with support from the USTA Foundation.

Arthur Ashe’s Return to Richmond: In 1963, Arthur Ashe became the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team. Five years later he returned to his hometown of Richmond for a match that was unique in a more personal way: For the first time in his life, he was allowed to play on the Byrd Park tennis courts. Growing up in a segregated city, Ashe and other black players weren’t allowed on those courts. Years later, when the Richmond Tennis Association and other tennis advocates helped bring a Davis Cup tie to their city, it was Arthur Ashe representing the United States and leading a 5-0 victory for his team.

Arthur Ashe Davis Cup

Arthur Ashe with the USA Davis Cup team

DC’s Sibling Duo that Dominated the Sport: Long before the Williams sisters became the face of American tennis, Margaret and Roumania Peters, sisters from Washington, DC, were taking the ATA tour by storm and making headlines for themselves. The duo was a force to be reckoned with in doubles, as the Peters sisters won the ATA Doubles Championship 15 times in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. During these decades, ATA tournaments were attracting an extremely high level of players, but it was the Peters sisters who stood out and dominated the game, attracting crowds of spectators. In 1942, Gene Kelly stopped by Rose Park in Washington to play with the sisters; their fame was not to be questioned. In 2003, Margaret and Roumania Peters were inducted into the USTA Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame for their achievements.

In 1946, Roumania Peters bested a young Althea Gibson in the ATA national championship. Dr. Whirlwind Johnson had traveled from Lynchburg to watch the match that day and saw something special in Gibson, but he also realized she needed more formal training to improve her game. It was after that match that he started coaching Gibson, eventually leading to the desegregation of American tennis four years later and five Grand Slam titles.

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Hampton University’s NCAA Division II Champions in 1989 (Photo: Hampton University News)

Hampton University’s Incomparable Tennis History: Led by legendary coach Dr. Robert Screen, Hampton University men’s team won the Division II NCAA title in 1976 and 1989 and remains the only Historically Black College or University to win an NCAA tennis championship. In addition to those two national championships, Hampton also won 22 straight CIAA titles and 11 straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles – a trophy case that would rival any across the country.

 

Celebrating 100 Years of ATA Chapionships in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park: After its founding in 1916, the ATA held its first national championship the following year at Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, pictured below. A century later, the organization celebrated the 100th anniversary of the momentous event by bringing the championship back to Druid Hill Park. Nearly 700 players traveled from near and far to participate in the tournament and celebrate ATA and the vibrant history of tennis in the black community.

Druid Hill Park

Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, home of the 2017 ATA National Championship.


The USTA Mid-Atlantic Section promotes a message of acceptance, respect, and inclusion. We aim to leverage our members’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives to remove barriers to play and thereby increase participation and expand opportunities that will promote community-level engagement throughout the Section. We celebrate and honor this message, especially during Black History Month, as well as every month of the year.

Love All: One League Team’s (Successful!) Adventures in Matchmaking

This post is written by Heather Carr and tells the story of what happens when a league team is nearly as dedicated to its matchmaking as its tennis. Happy Valentine’s Day from USTA Mid-Atlantic!

After 10 years of League matches, tournaments, practices, social gatherings and countless hours together, a tightknit team of couples and friends had evolved and set an ambitious goal in 2017: Making it to Nationals in the 4.5 men’s, 4.5 women’s and 9.0 mixed divisions. We never thought it would really happen, but after many local league and postseason matches, lucking out with a wildcard to Regionals and eventually winning Sectionals, we did it!

The achievement of playing at Nationals in the mixed, men’s and women’s levels in November was incredibly exciting. We are proud of this accomplishment, but would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the journey we took to get here. It not only brought us together for this occasion but has given us many other special moments along the way.

These are the stories of love and friendship that would most likely not have happened were it not for our love of tennis and the USTA! Introducing Heather Carr, Jan Neumann, Kelly Moler Glass, Ben Glass, Kelley Regan-Cosca, Chris Cosca, Mario Ceste and Anne Polino: the 2017, 18 and over 9.0 Mixed Doubles Team that represented the Mid-Atlantic Section, otherwise known as the “Wrecking Ball.”


Year: 2008
Location: Newport News, VA
Event: Adult 18 & Over Mid-Atlantic Sectionals

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The Northern Virginia women’s and DC men’s teams were enjoying a joint Italian dinner together to give Heather Carr an opportunity to actively recruit for her upcoming mixed doubles team. She was introduced to Jan Neumann (rooming with Mario Ceste at the time) who was a newcomer to DC-area tennis. Heather invited Jan to play on her team and Jan wisely accepted.

Fast forward six months to after one of their mixed doubles victories, where Jan had tried to impress Heather with his biggest serves. Yes, Heather was definitely impressed, but as a result, Jan injured his shoulder. Being a physical therapist, Heather offered to help Jan rehabilitate his shoulder. Heather will never forget teaching Jan a shoulder exercise where he was kneeling on one knee in front of her. At that moment she thought to herself, one day this man is going to get down on one knee again and ask me to marry him… Eight years later, Jan and Heather played together as a married couple at the 2017 Mixed Doubles National Championships.


Year: 2012
Location: Newport News, VA
Event: Adult 18 & Over Mid-Atlantic Sectionals

Glass-Moler

Kelly Moler, Kelley Regan, Ben Glass, and Mario Ceste were out at the Red Star Tavern. A few months prior, Heather Carr had mentioned to Kelly Moler that Ben Glass was a “really great guy” from Jan’s team.  Heather had a little tennis get-together where Kelly found that out for herself.  Ben is a very deliberate and slow-moving person while Kelly is not.  So, after months of flirting through emails, Kelly told her teammates she was just about ready to give up on the whole thing.

Dr. Kelley Regan (Kelly’s doubles partner) stepped up and asked Ben if he was interested and, if so, he had better act on it now…Minutes later, he asked Kelly out.   Thank goodness for Kelley Regan’s intervention! Otherwise Ben and Kelly would likely not have ended up dating, getting married, having their lovely daughter Kenza, or playing together as a marital mixed doubles pair with their friends at the National Championships.


Year: 2013
Location: Newport News, VA
Event: Adult 18 & Over Mid-Atlantic Sectionals

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Kelly Moler had a debt to repay to Kelley Regan – after all, Kelley Regan was the linchpin in bringing Kelly and Ben together. Now it was Kelly’s opportunity to return the favor, and she had identified fellow League player Chris Cosca as a potential good mate for Kelley. Mastermind Moler had been working on Cosca, convincing him that Regan was the woman for him. Chris certainly knew who Kelley was, but Kelley was not quite sure who he was.

That all changed in front of the Marriott at City Center (just steps away from the Red Star Tavern) where Kelley got her first look at the handsome Cosca. Once this spark was ignited, Chris and Kelley joined forces on and off the court, leading to numerous victories, a marriage and a baby boy. They’re now busy raising their adorable 1-year old Parker and are thankful to have had the chance to play together at Mixed Doubles Nationals.


Years: 2008-2015
Situation: Mario is single.

The solution: During post-tennis meals, Mario’s teammates coach him on how to secure a girlfriend. We survey his online dating profiles, drill him with questions, make recommendations, and listen to his many stories of dating woes. In 2015, Kelley and Kelly created Mario’s online dating profile at Heather and Jan’s Halloween party which shortly lead to him securing a date with the lovely Kate, who is now his wife and wholeheartedly supports his fanaticism for tennis. Kate joined the team in Mobile at Nationals.


Our recent championship run would not have been possible without the leadership and hard work throughout these years by our captain Anne, who bore witness and has partaken in the fun that comes along with all of this matchmaking on and off the court. Without her, we would not have made it to Mobile for yet another incredibly memorable tennis trip.

Turning Love into Aces

The love for tennis knows no bounds. However, for some families, the cost of tennis can include more than just playing the game. For highly competitive junior players, the cost of tennis includes traveling to local and regional tournaments, extra hours on the court training and frequent purchases of new equipment. Every year, USTA Mid-Atlantic helps support these juniors and their families by providing scholarships that help ease the  financial impact associated with high levels of junior competition. Because of the support we receive from our members, players and donors, we are able to help junior players continue on his or her journey through tennis and becoming an ace both on and off the court. Read about why your support matters and what one scholarship recipient has to say about the impact our scholarships make.

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Dear USTA Mid-Atlantic:

My name is Jelani Sarr, and I am 13 years old. All my life I’ve been playing the game I love – tennis. Since no one in my family has ever played tennis, how I started playing tennis is kind of an unusual story.

My story starts with me, my cousin, and my stepdad, waiting for my mom outside of the local library. While she was inside getting books, my stepdad, who I call my Uncle Coach, was trying to keep me and my cousin busy by having us hit some tennis balls against the wall with some old wooden racquets he had in his trunk. I was only three years old. Since that day, I’ve played other sports, like football and wrestling, but I kept coming back to tennis. It just stuck. I’ve been playing competitive tennis ever since.

Tennis has made multiple impacts on my life. For one, I travel to places in the United States that are beautiful! I also meet new friends among my fellow players. When we are not on the tennis court, we don’t see each other as competitors but as friends. My parents’ lives have also been affected because they get to travel with me. They have supported me all my life and have never given up on me; we have grown so much together.

A proud moment for me, where I felt like I have given back to my parents, was when I received a Sportsmanship award after winning my first National tournament. To cap it all off, the tournament sponsor let me wear his Golden State Warriors championship ring. I felt like a real warrior that day!

I would like to say thank you to the USTA Mid-Atlantic scholarship program and to everyone who supports it. This scholarship has been so important to me and my family because it makes me feel good to see my parents receiving something for a change. My parents have worked really hard to provide me with opportunities in the sport of tennis and given me tools to go as far as I can. This scholarship is recognition for all tennis parents and their hard work for turning all their love into our aces.

Sincerely,

Jelani Sarr

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Jelani is an avid competitor in tennis tournaments across the nation and one of thousands in the Section that compete year-round with a dream of going pro. Support stories like Jelani’s by making a tax-deductible contribution to USTA Mid-Atlantic today! For more information about our fundraising initiatives, reach out to Helen Li at li@mas.usta.com.