About two and half years ago, when Tom Sweitzer moved to Orlando to be the manager of the Orlando Tennis Center (OTC), he found the facility was in complete disarray. He compares the sight to a scene straight out of “Shawshank Redemption.”
It is located in one of the biggest areas of redevelopment in Parramore, and since its establishment in 1932, the OTC has witnessed the rise and growth of The City Beautiful. When Sweitzer came on board, the first thing on his agenda was to bring the OTC back up to par by completely repainting, resurfacing and rejuvenating the facility.
After that, he focused on giving back to the community in more ways than one. He offers free tennis lessons every summer through the Orlando City Junior Tennis Program. Last summer, 2,000 children learned how to serve, volley and backhand through the summer camp, which also offers volunteer opportunities for high school students who need to earn hours for graduation requirements.
“There are many ways anyone can get involved,” says Sweitzer. “By volunteering your time to run events and activities, donating equipment or you can just come out and watch these kids have fun.” The goal for this summer is to reach 3,000 children in all 16 community centers.
Many of the centers become home for children from low-income families. “The tennis programs gives kids a chance to exercise, not sit in front of the TV all day, and stay out of trouble,” says Sweitzer. “We also provide a free lunch because during the summer, when there is no school, many kids aren’t provided with a regular lunch.”
Sweitzer has made an impact on children and families in Orlando and his hometown of Harrisburg, Pa. Former students from Pennsylvania have come to visit the OTC just to see him. “About 30 percent of support for the USTA Women’s Pro Circuit Tournament came from my former students from Harrisburg,” says Sweitzer.
He has instilled in his former students that it takes more than just having a passion for tennis, but you must grow that passion too. In his 35 years of teaching, Sweitzer has promoted the value of learning tennis by raising over $9 million for summer programs, Pro Circuit Tournaments, and events. He has also dedicated over 50,000 hours to lessons, events and speaking at national tennis conventions.
When Sweitzer was 14 years old, his mother gave him an old tennis racquet that had never been used. That racquet sparked his love for tennis and ignited his passion to help others. “When I was inducted into USTPA Hall of Fame in 2013, I told that story,”he says. “I always tell it because it shows how one small gesture can change someone’s life.”