By Diana Burger, ALTA Foundation President
It is with much pride and gratitude that the ALTA Foundation is able to present our eight wonderful 2020 L. Keith Wood Memorial College Scholarship winners; pride because of all of the impressive scholarship applications we had to choose from and gratitude to a former ALTA president and board chairman, L. Keith Wood (and his family), who so graciously funded this $20,000 annual memorial scholarship.
Reading through nearly 80 scholarship applications was not an easy task, especially when so many applicants shared wonderful ALTA Junior League and ALTA Challenge Ladder experiences. Their impressive extracurricular activities and stellar grades made it clear why these eight seniors are the cream of the crop. We think you’ll agree that they are an impressive bunch of matriculating college freshmen! We want to wish each winner, along with every applicant, a happy, healthy, and exciting freshman year.
“Tennis was never intended to be my ‘sport.’ I loved football,” Barré wrote in one of his essays. He was a multi-sport kid, but his parents played ALTA, so it made sense when they wanted him to give it a try. That was the start of his nine seasons playing in the ALTA Junior Leagues over five years. When high school started, Barré joined the junior varsity football team, but was surprised he didn’t love it as much as tennis. So, he worked more on his tennis game and ultimately played high school varsity tennis for three years. “I am so thankful for the years I played in the ALTA Junior League,” he added. “It gave me a solid base to excel once in high school, and how much happier I was challenging myself to pivot to try new things.”
When not playing tennis, Barré, a nationally recognized AP Scholar, spent time as a leader in various school clubs, as a four-year lead on the varsity robotics team, and as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. In the summer, Barré worked as a camp counselor, lifeguard, and lessons instructor; plus, he is the swim team coach for his neighborhood’s 150+ kids swim team. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he runs a boys’ summer camp in his community every year. Since 2013, he has managed the camp, its staff, and 30 boys, ages 7-11. His campers enjoy a variety of activities, including tennis. “Playing ‘Jail’ [on the tennis courts] is a drill that I cherish from my ALTA junior days,” Barré commented. “Now, every year, I play that drill with my campers as one of our activities. They love the excitement and challenge of it, and I enjoy sharing that childhood memory with them.”
Barré will be attending Georgia Tech this fall, majoring in aerospace engineering. He hasn’t decided if college club tennis is in his future, but he says he has aged into ALTA adult league tennis and has played mixed doubles with his mother. When asked about his tennis over football decision, he said, “I would never have been able to play football after high school, but tennis will be a life-long passion of mine.”
“Being able to cheer for my younger brother as one of my teammates at City Finals was something I never could have done in high school, because our ages are too far apart,” Spencer told us in his essay about a memorable ALTA tennis experience. “I’ll never forget it. I gave my brother a few tips as I headed out to the court for my last 18-under ALTA Junior City Finals win.” Brown’s match went quickly, but the rest were absolute nail biters. “Not since my freshman year at state championships had I experienced such nervousness,” he continued. “We won! And I was ecstatic! I am very thankful that ALTA gave me, us, the opportunity. Sharing this experience with my brother will always stay with me.”
In addition to playing in the ALTA Junior League for nearly nine years (18 seasons), and on his high school’s varsity tennis team, Brown has volunteered for three years as a Special Pops tennis unified partner, which is an able bodied tennis player who participates as a match doubles partner of a Special Pops tennis athlete.
When not excelling at school, fulfilling his varsity team captain duties, or playing tennis, this AP Scholar and National Merit Commended Scholar was working on his Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout rank. As his final eagle project, he constructed a horse hay feeder for Bearfoot Ranch, a nonprofit equestrian farm that serves as a Special Olympics training barn, provides therapy for special needs children/adults, and veterans. He also has served as a Boy Scouts patrol leader and a den chief.
This fall, Brown will be attending the University of Georgia, where he plans to major in biology.
Chalker’s first experience with ALTA junior tennis was at the age of 10. “I was a complete beginner,” she commented in her scholarship essay, “but I had already caught the tennis bug, and was determined to improve.” And improve she did! After six seasons in the ALTA Junior Leagues program, two seasons on the ALTA Challenge Ladder, and numerous national tournaments, Chalker will turn her attention to the fall where she will play tennis on her college team at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
“Since the first time I played tennis, I’ve wanted to be on the court as much as possible,” Chalker said. She did this primarily for her love of the sport, but also because she felt she needed to practice more to reach the level of other kids her age. Eventually she chose to give up the traditional school experiences and put more time and effort into her game. “I’ve always believed if I am going to do something, I should do it to the best of my ability,” she added, “and as a result, I’ve learned the value of hard work and dedication.”
Outside of tennis, Chalker has spent time volunteering with the Marietta Tennis Association and at a local nursing home. She also served four years as a student ambassador of her school, started her school’s Spanish Club, and worked at the Laurel Park Tennis Center. “I started volunteering at the tennis center in ninth grade. but soon became an employee assisting with tournaments and camps,” she explained. Through this experience, she learned how to lead kids toward a fun tennis involvement and how to manage people when things went a little haywire at some of the tournaments she worked. “One particular event got incredibly stressful when six players were no-shows,” she explained. “I had to find the missing players while keeping the opposing players’ parents calm. It wasn’t easy, but it taught me how to communicate effectively and become a successful leader.”
When asked about any standout memories she’s experienced through tennis, Chalker is quick to talk about the friendships she gained from ALTA tennis. “I knew ALTA was the perfect way to improve my tennis game, but what I didn’t realize was ALTA would also be a great way to meet new friends,” she said. Chalker went on to explain that on her first ALTA junior team she met two sisters who became her very best friends. “We bonded over improving, playing doubles together, and learning how to compete as a team,” she added. “Eight years later, we are all still best friends, love tennis, and I’m even playing on an ALTA women’s team with one of them.”
For Dara Grocer, ALTA tennis is all about family. Like so many kids in Atlanta, she grew up watching her parents play their ALTA Mixed Doubles matches in every type of weather for many, many years. So, when Grocer finally played in her first ALTA Junior League match, her father said, “Winter 2020 will be the season you get to play with me on my ALTA Mixed team.” She doesn’t remember exactly how she responded, Grocer explained, but she bets she thought that it was a lifetime away. Over the next 10 years, she watched her parents play, always with the reminder that every year was one year closer to playing with her father.
Fast forward to Jan. 5, 2020. “That is a day that will forever live in my heart,” Grocer said with a smile. “It was a memory that not only my dad had been looking forward to since the first day I picked up a racquet, but a memory that signified a huge milestone in my early adulthood, and it was all because of ALTA tennis.”
Grocer credits her years playing Junior ALTA for helping her learn grit and resilience. “Before playing tennis, little things would ruin my whole day,” she explained, “but tennis taught me how to keep myself level-headed and to stay focused if I made an unforced error or had a bad court experience. Tennis also taught me how to work with a team, both on and off the court, which translated into my academic and social life too.” She added, “Without tennis, I’m not sure I would have evolved into the confident person I am today.”
That confidence has served Grocer well, as she excelled through high school and in her volunteer activities. In addition to playing on her school’s varsity tennis team, she won several awards for her journalist activities and spent two years as the Executive Producer of WHIS, her school news station. She was a board member and social media coordinator of the BBYO, a Jewish youth organization, where she also served as a tennis representative and as a tournament manager of the Maccabi International Games in Atlanta. Grocer also has spent many years as a volunteer for the Sandy Springs Tennis Association, teaching tennis skills, healthy eating, and character developing life skills at underserved schools in the Sandy Springs area.
Next up for Grocer is college at Elon University in North Carolina, where she will be studying in its Communications Fellow program, a special program for a select group of 30 students who have extra access to communications courses and greater study abroad opportunities.
“My dad always says to turn a failure or a loss into a positive by learning something from it,” Hawkins said as he began to explain the great lesson he learned from a very disappointing tennis loss. During his junior year of high school, his varsity tennis team was on the verge of making it into the state semifinals, but they would have to first beat their archrivals. “Several teammates and I felt fortunate to be playing on an ALTA Junior League A-1 team that spring,” he explained, “because it helped us to develop the skills and confidence needed to play in the state competition.”
On match day, the games were close, eventually resting the team’s fate on Hawkins’ match. “We lost the first set, won the second, then started strong in the third, but our opponents regained momentum, and our confidence began to wane,” he continued. They lost the match, but when the opponent’s team stormed his home courts in a fit of horrible sportsmanship, the loss felt even worse. “After the match, our coach addressed the whole team,” Will continued. “To my surprise, he was not mad, but rather disappointed in our opponents’ lack of respect and their arrogance. It was more important to him that we showed great character and carried ourselves with dignity. This taught me that winning and trophies are never as important as who you are and how you treat others, and nothing is more important than having dignity and integrity.”
Another skill Hawkins says he learned from his many years of tennis and his nine years in Junior ALTA is leadership, including how to adapt his approach to the needs of those he is leading. “I started as a volunteer coach at my school’s summer tennis camp, and I was thrilled to be invited back as a paid instructor for the next two years,” Hawkins explained. “Through my experience as a tennis instructor, I learned to see each kid as an individual and to adapt my style of coaching to help each child have a positive tennis experience.”
Beyond playing and teaching tennis, Hawkins volunteered his time to a few homeless missions and to a mission in Costa Rica. He is a member of the National Spanish Honor Society, the National Honor Society, and the Math Honor Society. Hawkins plans to study risk management at the University of Georgia this fall and is considering joining a club tennis team.
Valedictorian of her high school class. President of National Art Honor Society. BETA Club officer. Presidential Service Award. Varsity tennis captain. These are just some of the awards and leadership roles Lowenstein has achieved in her high school years at Greater Atlanta Christian School. Additionally, she has donated her time to several causes and helped create a charity that raised $30,000 for underprivileged kids. But above all these accolades and high achievements, it’s her warm, welcoming smile, and friendly demeanor that let you know she’ll welcome you in and be a person you want to know.
We asked Lowenstein if she thought tennis has had an effect on her leadership skills, to which she replied, “Tennis has taught me that leaders are first and foremost incredible team players.” Listening to her teammates, participating in clinics (even when not feeling up to it), and cheering on her team in matches, are just a few examples of how she tries to be a team player and lead from within the group. She says this helps build respect. “And with respect, I am one step closer to leadership.”
From about the age of nine, straight through her senior year of high school, Lowenstein played an impressive 18 seasons of ALTA Junior League tennis, and she credits her junior tennis experiences with helping to grow her moral character and integrity. “In the ALTA Junior League, there are no referees, and parents can’t interfere in our games,” she explained. “My integrity is demonstrated with every line call I make, my court behavior, and my attitude after both winning and losing matches. During matches, I know that my actions demonstrate more loudly than words … who I am.” So, when opponents see her in the lineup, she wants them to think she is fair, composed, and gracious in every situation.
In the summer, Lowenstein worked as a tennis coach at the Greater Atlanta Christian School’s Tennis Academy, where she helped bring the love of tennis to the next generation. This fall, she will be joining her older sister at the University of Virginia, where she hopes to earn her business degree.
“Tennis has provided me the opportunity to set goals and work towards them,” Robert stated when asked if tennis has had an impact on his life. “I’ve learned honesty, determination, leadership, teamwork, and the value of hard work; that there is so much more than winning or losing, and that self-growth comes from the lessons along the way.”
He played in the ALTA Junior Leagues for 11 seasons, but stopped after 2017 to dedicate his Saturday’s to volunteering with Special Pops tennis (Special Populations Tennis Program). “As I became more involved with Special Pops, I had to make a hard choice,” he said. Ultimately his love of sharing tennis with others won out. “This fantastic sport has molded my life and taught me who I am.”
“Of all my tennis experience, I have found the most fulfillment in my volunteer work with Special Pops,” Robert told us in his scholarship essay. “In Special Pops, we teach tennis to intellectually disabled students ranging in ages from seven to 60-yrs-old.” Robert says he began volunteering to help others, but he found they have taught him so much more. “Seeing their pure glee when they see their hard-earned results help put life into perspective. They have taught me patience and value of service to others, and I hope to continue this work when I go off to college, even if I have to start a new branch of the organization.”
In addition to his volunteer work, Robert played on the varsity tennis team, was an officer in the Technology Student Association (TSA), and co-founded the Lambert Cornhole Club. He has received honors as a Special Pops Person of Importance, the Engineering Student of the Year, and as a Triple Crown Recipient (achieving a high school letter in sports, 4.0+academics, and club for Lambert’s TSA top 10 finishes in three State competitions). He also has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and has worked as a tennis instructor. In the fall, Jaxon will attend Virginia Tech where he plans to study biomedical engineering.
Serial volunteer and enthusiastic thespian were two descriptions that leaped from the page of Wunderlich’s high school résumé. In four years of high school, Wunderlich managed to volunteer 465 hours of her time at various Roswell/Alpharetta charities as a member and leader in the National Charity League, receiving several awards for her multitude of service hours. Plus, she participated in seven high school musical productions, about 16 choral events, four years in Improve Club, and served as the Theater President her senior year. She accomplished all of this while managing to graduate in the top 5 percent of her class, which earned her a Georgia Certificate of Merit. And what does Wunderlich attribute to helping her become such an accomplished young woman? Her 14 seasons of playing in the ALTA Junior League, of course.
“Tennis has had an impact on the development of my leadership skills,” Wunderlich explained in her essay. “Tennis was my first experience in a team environment, and it taught me being a leader not only means leading a team to victory, but also supporting my teammates every step of the way and treating each loss as an opportunity to learn and improve.” Through tennis, she says she learned the importance of teamwork, partner communication, and building trust and chemistry by working together. “I have applied all of these skills to my roles as president of my high school’s Thespian Society and the National Charity League.
In addition to leadership, Wunderlich explained how tennis also helped her develop mental toughness. “Tennis has taught me many life skills, but the one I use the most is the game isn’t over ‘till it’s over,” she stated. A willingness to evolve is what allowed her to have the most success, which further reinforced her determination. “I work to apply this same mentality to my everyday life because taking it day by day and leaving the past behind is what ensures I am always moving forward,” she concluded.
Ansley participated in the Biology DNA Research club and has received several other academic awards. This fall she is headed to the University of Michigan where she will be majoring in biology.