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Standing Tall Tennis serves up an ace

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - After serving many years as tennis director for a local country club, David Dantzer, a U.S. Professional Tennis Association teaching pro, discovered that there was an empty sector among his students; American Indians.

And so in 1995 Standing Tall Tennis began. In the past eight years, more than 3,000 Native children and adults from all over Indian country have been introduced to the sport. This season alone, Dantzer held clinics in New Mexico, Arizona, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington.

Based on the message "stand-up and be proud of who you are," Standing Tall challenges children to "at least, try" tennis. During the first free clinic everyone wins a prize, and more often than not, participants return to subsequent clinics with their friends in tow.

"There are many great natural athletes in Indian country who seem to enjoy the challenge of learning a new skill," Dantzer added in a recent interview with Indian Country Today. "The response has been very positive even though many Native Americans have no experience with the sport at all."

In addition to learning the basics of tennis, participants also learn lifetime lessons like teamwork, concentration, sportsmanship, dedication and goal setting. Tennis also serves as a great healthy activity that gets Natives up and moving.

Although participation and talent levels were positive, Standing Tall Tennis has hit a few bumps in the road. For example, the lack of appropriate courts in Indian country, Danzter pointed out, "We've taught in gyms, on outdoor basketball courts, parking lots and on grass, but seldom on a regulation tennis court."

However some improvements are noticeable in areas where an increased interest in tennis has been expressed. For example, in 1997, when the Outreach Tour began at the Todd County High School in Mission, S.D., Dantzer recalls how "[the school] had two badly cracked courts when Standing Tall Tennis first visited the campus." Now there are three new courts complete with wind breakers and a ball machine.

Another problem that Dantzer faced was the lack of interest in follow-up programs. Danzter and several other coaches, pros, some volunteers from throughout the U.S. conduct the clinics, but when the initial clinic was complete, he found no one had the knowledge (or the interest) in continuing the program. Now, Danzter said they train at least one instructor at a day at every clinic site so that there is a possibility of continuation.

"By teaching Native Americans to teach Native Americans, we are creating some jobs, or at least, making someone more knowledgeable and valuable in their present position."

Overall, Dantzer feels the program is a success. He continued "the fact that Standing Tall Tennis is welcomed back each year could attest to that." The non-profit organization is made possible by several sponsors including the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Wilson Sporting Goods Co., Joseph Stanley Leeds Foundation and is endorsed by the Native American Sports Council. Standing Tall is also working with several Boys and Girls Clubs and local schools and wellness programs in an attempt to grow even more. Through Nike, two American Indian youth were granted scholarships for tennis summer camps.

Seeing the joy in the young tennis players and often their families solidifies Dantzer's pride in the program. "Success is seeing the smiles on the participants faces (adults and children), learning that parents have taken the children to hit some tennis balls together, hearing that kids on the Rez had to be kicked off the court at 10 p.m. because they were playing tennis and reservations wanting to build tennis courts after Standing Tall Tennis has been there. This is success."

Danzter has Pro #1 status with the USTA and currently coaches the men and women's tennis teams at Allan Hancock Community College in Santa Maria, Calif. He was recently named a member of the National Multicultural Participation Committee for the USTA. His work with Standing Tall brought national televised recognition, when his efforts were noted during the CBS special opening day of the 2002 U.S. Open.

For further information on Standing Tall Tennis, contact David Dantzer at or (805) 947-0213. Their Web site, is slated to be up and running by the end of the year.