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Tennis and community service go hand in hand for many club tennis teams

Wilfredo Tangui, URI, Tennis On Campus, National Championship 

By Ashley Marshall

ORLANDO, FLa. -- Tennis On Campus is about more than serves and volleys, forehands and smashes. Sure, wins and losses are recorded and champions are crowned, but there's just as much happening off the court once the final point has been played.

For the majority of the club tennis teams competing at this week’s National Championship in Orlando, Fla., Tennis On Campus also means lifelong friendships, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and playing an active role in the community.

No team emphasizes those ideals better than the University of Rhode Island, which participates in Relay for Life, supports a tournament benefiting the Boston Police Tennis Program and donates used tennis balls to local dog shelters. 

But one charity, above all others, sits close to their heart.

The URI club holds on-campus fundraising events to collect money for the Gabrielle Dinsmore Heart & Hope Fund, an organization that helped Providence, R.I., senior Wilfredo Tangui.  

Wilfredo was born was a rare heart defect called pulmonary stenosis where the valves controlling blood flow to the heart were not functioning properly. His case, although asymptomatic, was considered critical and believed to be the first of its kind in New England in more than 40 years.

He underwent open heart surgery in 2012 and had to give up all forms of contact sports, including karate in which he was nationally ranked. Five years later, tennis continues to play a big part in his recovery, first in high school and now at college. Wilfredo, who mentors at the annual Heart & Hope Fund summer camp, is a bio pre-med major and hopes to travel to Haiti, South America and Africa after graduation to help in areas with health disparities.

"It's a big driving force for me to be able to help other kids just like me," said Wilfredo, one of the four original URI club tennis founders. 

URI's efforts did not go unnoticed. The USTA New England section named the team its Club of the Year, an award which gave the school a place in the National Championship.

"The main reason why we're here is because of our fundraising and community service," club president Celia Dunn said. "It's incredible in the sense that most of our members are passionate about the charities. It means a lot for us to give back to organizations our members care so passionately about."

URI is not alone in its charitable endeavors. Some clubs donate their time, others host events to raise funds and many participate in food, clothing and toy drives. Several teams support regional chapters of national organizations, while many others provide local help to groups in their neighborhood or on their own campus. 

Tufts and the University of Miami are among the clubs that participate in Relay for Life, while the University of Illinois, Georgia Tech and the University of Maryland are three of several groups that take part in Habitat for Humanity projects.

Cornell and UCLA assist at ACEing Autism events, and the Bruins also host a charity tournament to benefit Los Angeles' homeless population.  

"These efforts and others remind us that tennis can be about more than playing a game, and that we really can make a difference by communicating with each other through a common sport," UCLA president Arjun Sarkar said. 

Mentoring also plays a big part in many of the players' non-curricular activities. Many of Yale’s members are involved in outreach programs like tutoring local high school kids and volunteering in clinics in the New Haven area; Alabama's players volunteer with local tennis programs teaching quick start tennis to underprivileged youth; and Vanderbilt's members are leaders in Mentor TENNISsee, a student-run after-school program that teaches tennis and life skills to underprivileged youth in the Nashville area. 

Elsewhere, the University of Georgia reaches out to underprivileged youngsters in the community through the Aces for Athens initiative, the University of Texas facilitates river cleanups that help sustain the San Marcos river and its ecosystem; and the University of Wisconsin club tennis players volunteer to help run an eight-week teaching program for children in the Madison area that was once the largest youth tennis program in the Midwest. 

Each program is meaningful for the members who volunteer, but for Tangui, his story will always be a little more personal. He says being able to overcome adversity helps put everything else in perspective and allows him to be appreciative for what he's able to do. More importantly, it keeps him eager to assist others and give back to the community which helped save his life.

"I think being able to beat this condition and still play sports is a huge part of me," he said. "They told me I was never going to be able to play sports again. It's made me who I am. It gave me determination and perseverance, so it means a lot to me."