'Everyone Can Play' aims to include all Calgarians in sport of tennis

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Everyone can play … That’s the aim of the community-minded folks at the Osten & Victor Alberta Tennis Centre.

On Wednesday, they put that game plan into motion — with the help of Working For More Health Equity — by announcing the launch of an initiative to promote inclusivity and accessibility to the sport of tennis.

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“‘Everyone Can Play’ is a program that’s geared around supporting new Canadians, those in diverse communities and families and youth that need assistance,” said Alberta Tennis Centre CEO Danny Da Costa.

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“We’ve always advocated that we’re a centre for all,” said Da Costa. “We’ve never wanted to be an elitist thing. We’re a community-based organization. So from our standpoint, we try to make tennis as affordable and accessible as possible.

“And we always work with partner agencies in our city to develop tennis and try to make a difference in our community.”

Set to serve up fun starting this summer, the Everyone Can Play program is further confirmation of the Alberta Tennis Centre’s commitment to tennis as a sport people of all ages, abilities, skill levels and backgrounds can play.

“My parents were immigrants,” said Sharon Fichman, a former Canadian tennis star on hand from Toronto for the launch. “When I was growing up, they didn’t really have the means to give my brother and I everything that some of the other kids had in tennis, like all the fancy memberships.

“Now more than ever, it doesn’t really matter where you come from and what your financial background is. Tennis is very accessible. And Tennis Canada has programs, and provinces have regional programs.

“If the kids have a desire to play, it’s possible to get a racquet in their hands. And I’m a product of that.”

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Cue the Billie Jean King Cup, a symbol of inclusivity, making a cameo in the city to help raise awareness for the initiative at hand at the Alberta Tennis Centre.

The coveted trophy is in Calgary as part of its tour across the nation to celebrate Canada’s 2023 win of the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport.

“Billie Jean King is a champion for inclusivity,” Da Costa said. “And I think having this here to help us make this announcement is a historic moment for us. Hopefully, it will inspire a new generation of tennis talent in Canada.”

(L-R): Gabriela Dabrowski, Marina Stakusic, Eugenie Bouchard, Rebecca Marino, Leylah Fernandez and Heidi El Tabakh, Captain of Team Canada celebrate with the trophy after winning the Billie Jean King Cup Final match between Canada and Italy at Estadio de La Cartuja on November 12, 2023 in Seville, Spain. Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF

As part of the initiative, the WFMHE has slated the one-of-a-kind Everyone Can Play Gala to bring together donors, supporters and tennis enthusiasts for an entertaining evening of fundraising on Oct. 11.

Money generated from the gala, which is set to include both a silent and live auction, is earmarked for the sustainability and expansion of Everyone Can Play.

The evening of celebration and philanthropy coincides with the kickoff of the 2024 Calgary National Bank Challenger, the centre’s annual high-profile host of the ATP Challenger Tour scheduled for Oct. 13-20.

Everyone Can Play follows the centre’s previous program put in place to up the female participation in tennis called ‘She Can Play.’

“We’re always introducing new and innovative programs,” said Da Costa. “A couple of years ago, we introduced the all-girls program led by female coaches and leaders, and with that, we provide first experience to under-resourced children in our community. From 2016, we’ve introduced 60,000 kids in Calgary to tennis through our schools program.

“We service 45,000 Calgarians and Albertans every year here.”

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