Photo: Peter Power

Speak to Philpott Children’s Tennis’ Chair of the Board, Jennifer Bishop, or its Executive Director, Richard Crowell, and their passion for the organization permeates throughout the conversation.

“It’s the community that motivates us to want to do this,” Bishop says as she explains the work done through its many programs, camps, festivals and coaching courses. “You hear the mantra, ‘it takes a village’ and that definitely applies here.”

Since the early 1990s, Philpott Children’s Tennis has brought tennis to the lives of children in Toronto’s inner-city communities. But it’s about more than just sport. Their programs also teach important lessons about discipline, cooperation, physical fitness and self-confidence.

Photo: Peter Power

Bishop’s involvement began a decade ago, when a Board-level restructure saw then-Chair Coulter Wright approach her. “During my tenure on the Board, we saw a lot of positive movement and that’s when I was asked if I would consider taking on the Chair position. It was in that spirit that I agreed because we needed to keep up with the demand for what the community needed from us.”

Crowell, meanwhile, was also on the Board while serving as Director of Community and Grassroots Tennis at Tennis Canada. In 2018, he made the jump from the Federation to Philpott full-time. “I said I wanted to do two things: get more women coaches on the court and the second thing, which I said to Jen, is that we will build a facility. Straight away, she said ‘yes’. So, I said, ‘okay, you got me’.”

Their continuous efforts to achieve the first goal have been successful so far. “Since 2018,” Richard added, “we’ve gone from seven per-cent women coaches on the court to over 50 per-cent. We’ve certified over 30 women coaches in the last couple of years. They’re all coaches from the communities we serve.”

And today, as ground is officially broken on a two-court, year-round tennis facility at The Courts at San Romanoway, operated by Philpott Children’s Tennis, the second dream takes a significant forehand closer to becoming a reality.

On February 27, Tennis Canada and Rogers announced the four facilities that would receive $200,000 in funding in 2023 as part of the Year-Round Community Tennis Courts Program.

“We are especially delighted to announce that one of the project locations is a Philpott Children’s Tennis facility, located a stone’s throw away from Sobeys Stadium,” said Tennis Canada President and CEO, Michael Downey. “Tennis Canada has always had a strong relationship with this extraordinary not-for-profit that provides a place for everyone to play our sport, including those in underserved communities.”

It’s an understatement to say it’s been a long journey for Philpott to secure a year-round facility. Many incremental decisions along the way have culminated in this major project coming to fruition. One of those came early in Crowell’s tenure and has become the backbone for the organization’s deep-rooted work in the communities it serves.

It was sparked by the discovery of some key metrics. A study found that 93.4% of parents reported their child enjoyed Philpott’s program, 98.1% wanted their children to continue in tennis but 75% weren’t aware of affordable programs in their community beyond the summer.

“There was talk of us expanding across the country or to other municipalities,” Crowell explained. “We made the decision, rather to expand horizontally, to grow vertically. What that meant was deeper relationships with the communities.”

He added: “In order to be trusted in the community, you have to be there. You have to be there for multiple years and all the time. We’ve not only been there but have grown programs and now, started to build a facility. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.”

Aside from the seed money provided by Tennis Canada and Rogers, the project at The Courts at San Romanoway wouldn’t have been possible without the support of many stakeholders.

“First of all, Kevin Green has been a phenomenal partner, supporter, champion,” Bishop said. “He also Chairs the Israeli Tennis Foundation and there are a lot of synergies between the organizations. There’s a shared passion for tennis so it was a great fit for us.”

Photo: Peter Power

It’s when the conversation turns to the people in the community the project will serve that Bishop and Crowell’s faces truly light up. “There’s a guy named Tony there,” Crowell beams. “Tony is a volunteer and he’s lived in the buildings since they were built. He comes down and monitors the courts every day. He helps set things up if we need nets, storage, water, parking. We don’t do anything there that he doesn’t help with.”

“Also, there’s a kid named Thuginthan, who also lives in the building. He and his brother have been playing with us since they were little kids. He’s now a certified instructor working with us. He applied for a scholarship, mentioned his work with Philpott, and got into Upper Canada College. He graduated this past year and is now at the University of Toronto’s School of Business on scholarship.”

Currently, Philpott’s programming growth is limited by a lack of access to courts particularly in the winter months. Normally, they can provide approximately 320 hours of non-primetime indoor kids programming per year. Adding two additional indoor courts at San Romanoway will grow that to 1,456 free primetime hours plus an additional 4,368 hours of low-cost court rentals.

So, what does that mean for the organization?

“It’s monumental, symbolic and illustrates many years and many hours of trying to make this dream come alive,” Bishop said. “It’s also cementing our first step in what we believe is an incredible opportunity for growth for this organization.”