T Bar M Racquet Club is a private tennis club located in the North Dallas Corridor. Established in 1970, the club was purchased by Mercy Wine Bar owner Glen Agritelley in 1997 and modernized to contain three courts, eight indoor courts and include a staff of 26 tennis pros. There is also a superb new junior program.
However, there is another aspect of T Bar M that is completely unknown to the majority of its members, and that is its partnership with the Anguilla Tennis Academy, located on Anguilla Island in the British West Indies just east of Puerto Rico. It is a partnership that was sparked by T Bar M’s athletic director, Chris Wade, who was working at a resort in Anguilla 20 years ago when he began mentoring a few of the local children and teaching them tennis. The children then went on to receive scholarships to colleges in the U.S. One of these children, a particularly entrepreneurial boy named Mike Lake, returned to Anguilla after college and began the Anguilla Tennis Academy. Since that time — nearly two decades — children from the academy have been coming to train at T Bar M during the summer and receive help getting college scholarships. Agritelley recently visited the Academy with his two sons.
“We coached during the day and then we were mentoring some of the kids,” says Agritelley. “It’s been a real neat partnership of helping with these kids kind of pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get into college and go back and really start to better the island. We’re in partnership with them helping raise money so we can bring some of these kids up to train them. It was great for my boys to be working with these kids and see how the other half lives and how tough it is, and it was a really good learning experience for them. They loved it, they had a great time.”
There was even a serendipitous moment when one of Agritelley’s sons happened to examine a racquet belonging to a member of the academy and find his own name stenciled on the side. It was a racquet he had donated nearly 10 years before from T Bar M. Agritelley’s sons even participated in three separate tennis exhibitions, playing against other college-level players. The exhibitions were held at two different resorts as well as the Anguilla Tennis Academy. Between 30 and 50 people attended the resort exhibitions, no doubt gaining some much needed attention for the island’s little tennis school, which is always in need of support. The local government in Anguilla does not support the academy financially, so they are dependent upon private donations.
“They’re in need of tennis clothing, tennis shoes, racquets; they need donations,” says Agritelley. “They’re incredibly appreciative, and those kids are very hardworking and motivated.”
It is not uncommon for academy graduates to return to the island after completing their college education. Nzingha Banks is currently on staff at the academy. She is the recipient of a full scholarship to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and spends her summers working at the academy. No doubt stories like hers are inspirational to younger members.
Everyone involved believes in the partnership between T Bar M and Anguilla Tennis Academy, but while the academy staff is working hard to grow and make the place something truly special, they are running up against some harsh odds. The last hurricane that tore through the area wiped out all of the seating in their nearly completed 2,000 person stadium, but battling hazardous weather in a poor country for the sake of tennis seems to be well worth the effort.
“The thing that I really enjoy you go to a remote island like this, where there’s a lot of poverty, but you have tennis in common,” explains Agritelley. “Tennis is a vehicle to allow these kids to better themselves where they don’t have any other opportunity to do that. There’s a lot of them that want to take advantage of it. It’s a pretty inspiring thing when you go down there and you see it. Unlike a lot of other sports, it’s an individual sport and a lot of the skills that you learn are life skills. Those are the same skills that allow you to be successful outside of the tennis world. Those skills that these kids are learning — work ethic and thinking and getting your emotions under control, problem solving on the court — it all adds up to helping these kids be successful later on in life.”
The Anguilla Tennis Academy is at a critical moment in its development as an organization. For it to truly thrive, it must attract international attention, and the school is hoping that Challenger and ATP level tournaments will choose the academy as a site for its exhibitions in the near future. In the meantime, it is gladly accepting donations so that its members may continue to do what they love to do — play tennis.