As a budding tennis star in high school, Jana Williams (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) often felt alone in the sport, until she received an invite to an North American Indian Tennis Association tournament. Among a couple hundred other Natives in the sport, Williams says she had an awakening, “because you’re not the only one playing.”
The NAITA event moves from city to city and 2016’s 40th-annual tournament from May 28-30 is headed to Ojibwe country in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a volunteer to help host the tournament, Williams is on a mission to attract newcomers from all over North America, noting the tournament will be held on impressive clay courts and the Mall of America is nearby.
Though last year’s event was nearly cancelled due to inclement weather and a lack of exposure. That’s why she is putting a call out to all the Native tennis players she knows are out there.
“It’s one of those things that’s gotta be word of mouth. The more we can talk about it and get it out there, the more people will hear about it.”
NAITA has held clinics on reservations to try to grow the sport in the American Indian community, which has helped, she says.
One challenge, she says, is relocating each year. “I think our biggest draws are always going to be in Oklahoma, the Southwest.” This year, they’ve partnered with the United States Tennis Association to help raise the profile of Native tennis. “A lot of reservations don’t have tennis courts,” Williams says. “We’ve been trying to promote [the sport] for 20 years and it hasn’t grown much.”
Williams says the unique draw is that it’s the only tournament of its kind, and notable Native athletes have competed in it.
“There are several divisions in the tournament that range from novice to open,” says Williams. “And it’s unique in the sense that winners receive Native artwork as trophies.”
Click here to visit the NAITA’s Facebook page.
Follow ICTMN’s Cary Rosenbaum on Twitter: @caryrosenbaum