Hispanic youth celebrate Heritage Month at Rosie/Pancho Fiesta

National Hispanic Heritage Day was celebrated in style at the Rosie Casals and Pancho Gonzales Love Tennis Fiesta at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. It was a lively sports cultural event for approximately 120 children, who played tennis and enjoyed mariachi music, folkloric dancers, and a healthy lunch. These festivities were capped off with traditional piñatas and a chase for candy.

“The kids had fun and some said it was the best time of their lives,” Casals said. “The clinic went extremely well, thanks to the SCTA Tennis Service Representatives, and all of volunteer coaches and helpers made a big difference.”

This was the inaugural year for the event to celebrate Hispanic culture as well as bring tennis to the Coachella Valley. Casals, a tennis legend with 12 Grand Slam titles, strives to give back to her community and share her love of the game. Casals joined forces with the Pancho Gonzales Foundation, which was represented by several Gonzales family members.

“This was an amazing event and there were talented kids here,” said Greg Gonzales. “The next step is to find a way to keep them playing.”

Tennis champion Rafael Osuna was one of the most successful players in Mexican history. He won three Grand Slams before his tragic death at age 30 in a 1969 plane crash. Osuna was represented by family at the Love Tennis Fiesta with nephew, Rafael Belmar Osuna, who enjoyed teaching the children.

“Bringing tennis to these kids is a gift,” Osuna said. “Everything about this event was great. If we touched one child’s life it was worth it.”

The two-hour Tennis Fiesta was held on eight state-of-the-art courts at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which donated the use of the facility for the event.

“Our goal was to reach about 120 kids and we were successful,” said SCTA Tennis Service Representative D’Wayne Begay. “These kids could see other Hispanic role models achieve success in tennis and I think it had a big impact.”

The Love Tennis Fiesta’s theme was a game called “Passport to Play”, which tracked tennis adventures in a colorful booklet. As kids progressed through the play day, they checked off challenge station participation in agility, court awareness, forehands, backhands, serve and return, and Red Ball Challenge Rallies. Children participated from the following area schools: Mountain Vista, Las Palmitas, Oasis, Mecca, Valley View and Saul Martinez.

The educational component was tennis history highlighting eight great champions in Casals, Gonzales, Billie Jean King, Rafael Osuna, Charlie Pasarell, Maria Bueno, Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. The children were divided into eight groups or teams, each named after a champion. They learned about their tennis heroes’ accomplishments, and then selected a youth spokesperson to share that knowledge with the entire group.

Other inspiring moments came when Claudia Hernandez of Mexico shared her tennis experiences with the children as a NCAA team champion from USC (1985-86.) A former Olympian representing Mexico, Hernandez was a gold medalist at the Central America Games, and she won a bronze at the Pan American Games. Taylor Johnson, a Southern California junior superstar, volunteered to be a Love Tennis Fiesta coach. Johnson was ranked No. 8 ITF world juniors, and will be a freshman at UCLA in the spring on a full tennis scholarship. She shared her love of the game with the group.

“I started when I was about your age,” said Johnson, also a USTA Girls 18’s Hardcourt Doubles Champion. “It’s possible for every one of you to improve, just stick to it and keep trying. It will pay off. Tennis gives you so many life lessons, and it’s a sport you can play for the rest of your life.”

Later that evening, the Fiesta Cocktail Reception was held at Vicky’s of Sante Fe restaurant to honor Charlie Pasarell and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of NJTL. Other awards were from the Pancho Foundation and the Multicultural Tennis Association Latina Ambassador Program to recognize three youth for their volunteer efforts in Leilani Gonzales, Rosario Quim Valdez and Bella Mendez Robles.

“I’m so proud of those that worked so hard to promote tennis at this event and in NJTL,” said Charlie Pasarell, who was one of the NJTL founders with Arthur Ashe and Sheridan Snyder in 1969. “The main objective was not to create the next Wimbledon champion, but to bring kids off the streets away from crime, gangs and drugs. We wanted to open up their minds, teach them life skills and have a positive impact on their lives. I am also happy that you are working with the Hispanic community.”

Event sponsors included the Larson Project Wines, TennisKids, Coachella Valley Housing, After School Education Sports (ASES), Billie Jean King, Barbara and Gary Tolman, and NJTL Coachella Valley.

“Next year I’d like to bring in more culture with Hispanic vendors and Latino related items,” Casals said. “I’d also like to add a Hispanic tournament open to all kids, and make it a fun and competitive experience.”