Excellence Team standout hits the right notes, on and off the court

April 10, 2015 03:30 PM

By McCarton Ackerman, USTAFoundation.com

A precocious 9-year-old from Great Falls, Va., is using her love of tennis to help fuel her other passions of singing and helping others, leading to a true triple threat who is making a major difference in her community.

After being introduced to tennis by her father, Victoria Matthews began playing at the age of 6 and took to the sport immediately. Her brother, 11-year-old Winston, a former No. 1 ranked 10-and-under player in the USTA Mid-Atlantic region, helped fuel her desire for the sport.

“They’re competitive with each other,” explained her mother, Jacqueline. “Once he got to No. 1, she began taking it more seriously.”

Victoria began entering USTA tournaments last year and, as of April 2015, is ranked No. 13 in the USTA Mid-Atlantic 10-and-under division. Her strong results led her to being invited this year to join the Virginia Excellence Team affiliated with the Bob Pass Tennis and Education Foundation in Fairfax, Va.  The Excellence Team project is a tennis, education and community service program that works in conjunction with the USTA Foundation’s National Junior Tennis and Learning network.

In addition to their work on the court and in the classroom, the Excellence Teams perform monthly community service projects for inner-city kids. Since Victoria had already helped raise money for Toys for Tots, as well as for local organizations that give blind people access to service dogs, being of service to others was something she immediately excelled in.

“We taught less fortunate kids how to play tennis this month, which I had a lot of fun doing,” she said. “Being on the Excellence Team has helped me care more about others and become a better person.”

Victoria is also using one of her other passions, singing, to help more kids in her neighborhood gain access to the sport. On April 26, she will perform at a tennis charity fundraiser sponsored by Citi Open and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreations in order to help raise money for tennis programs for inner-city children. The event will take place at Takoma Station Tavern in Washington, D.C.

“We’re very fortunate to have the money to play tennis, so this would give other people the chance to play as well,” she said. “I thought it would be a good thing to do.”

But Victoria has not only used tennis as a platform to help others, but also to help herself. After being bullied by some of her peers in school last year, she found solace on the tennis court and through her peers on the Excellence Team.

“Being on the team definitely helped,” she said. “When I’m on the court, I feel equal to everyone else, which I love.”

She also released her debut album this January, “Warrior,” which included original songs about her experience being bullied. All proceeds from the album are going towards spreading awareness of bullying in schools through her “Sing & Swing for No Kid Bullied” campaign.

“Rather than reacting back in a mean way, she wrote ‘Warrior’ as a way to talk about her feelings being hurt,” said Jacqueline. “But after she was chosen to perform the song in front of her school, some of the bullies apologized.”

Her response to being bullied is a model example of the grit and graciousness that the Excellence Team instills in its players. Jacqueline believes that the social outlet the Excellence Team provides has helped Victoria through the sometimes lonely world of competitive tennis, but also that the mentoring from her coaches has helped her thrive on and off the court.

“The coaches are so involved with them not just as tennis players, but as people,” she said. “Tennis has taught her to be more self-confident and deal with adversity not by giving up, but by overcoming it gracefully. It’s taught her to win with honesty and integrity. It’s such a great sport for developing personal character and has really inspired maturity and growth.”



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