Hailing from Staten Island, Michele Gee is no stranger to the tennis court. At a very young age, Michele was introduced to the sport by her father, a self-taught tennis player. It soon became the family sport, as her brother would eventually play and compete as well. Being exposed to the game early on and playing throughout her life has lead to unique and unforgettable experiences for Michele, on and off the court.
As Jackie Robinson’s first site leader, she brings her experience, aptitude, and passion to the program. We recently sat down with Michele to talk about KCTL and the reasons why she continues to love the game.
What attracted you to KCTL specifically?
I was initially attracted to KCTL because I just missed being out on the tennis court. I've played tennis my entire life and coached for several years as well and I couldn't help but miss working with children and teaching a sport that had such an incredible impact on my life. But the more I learned about KCTL and its mission to bring tennis--which is still considered an elitist sport--to children in underserved communities, I knew it was something amazing. I also knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of.
In your opinion, what's different about KCTL than what you've experienced compared to other organizations?
The off-court mentorship portion is the major difference. While tennis is a huge component of this program, it is not the only component. Teaching children about manners, sportsmanship, personal values, and managing emotions is paramount when it comes to their development. I find that the children are just as engaged during the off-court discussions as they are during any of the super fun tennis games that we play such as Breakout and Alligator.
How did tennis influence you during your childhood?
Tennis had a huge influence on my childhood and, ultimately, my life. My father, a South Carolina native who was raised in a poverty-stricken home, taught himself to play at the age of 10. He didn't realize it, but the choice he made to pick up a racquet would change his life and the lives of his children that would be born decades later. He taught my brother and I to play and, before we knew it, we were practicing every day and traveling to compete in tournaments every week. Tennis gave me an opportunity to travel to places I never thought I could go and to meet the most interesting people. It gave me confidence and taught me the value of hard work. Tennis allowed me to attend and graduate from Howard University on a full athletic scholarship. More importantly, tennis has given me the opportunity to work and mentor children while passing along all the wisdom and lessons that this great sport has taught me.
What's the absolute one thing that you want the kids to take away this summer?
The notion that they can achieve anything. When a child who has been struggling to hit a forehand finally hits a perfect shot over the net, there is no greater feeling. I watch as their face lights up and I feel a sense of joy because that child now knows that no matter how many times they failed at hitting a forehand in the past, success is possible. And success breeds confidence. I want the students to be confident in their ability to persevere no matter how difficult the task.
If you could choose to meet one tennis player throughout history, who would it be and why?
I would meet Althea Gibson. I'd ask her how she was able to rise from the destitute Harlem neighborhood where she was raised to center court at Wimbledon. I'd ask her how she survived the terrible racism that she had to endure with such grace and dignity. And lastly, I would want to thank her for paving the way for players like Serena Williams and Lori McNeil, and even a young African-American girl from Staten Island, like myself.