A sporting chance
In a word, Gavin Manders is busy.
The pro runs The Tennis Club at Tucker’s Point as well as his own management company.
He’s also training for the upcoming Island Games and Davis Cup and growing a family — he has a child at home and another on the way.
Despite all that, the 31-year-old has found time for a new focus: a tennis mentorship programme for the island’s youth.
It comes on the heels of a charity exhibit he played in Boston against Sri Lankan Harshana Godamanna. This month’s match at Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Centre raised $11,000 to help get inner-city youths involved in the sport.
“They have a massive community outreach programme working with inner-city kids, and some of their programmes are now being implemented nationwide,” said Mr Manders, who is ranked number one in Bermuda.
“I grew up playing tennis at Port Royal, which is a very community-based place; they had a lot of grassroots things that they did while I was growing up. Through that, and then travel, is why I’ve always had that [support], which is where Sportsmen’s comes into play.”
Mr Manders has travelled the world representing Bermuda. He’ll head to Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, for the Island Games at the end of June.
“I have a one-year-old and another one on the way, so life is full, to say the least,” he said. “All I’ve got to do is get through the summer, which is the busiest. But it’s all good. I enjoy everything I do, so I don’t really work.”
His recent trip to Boston stemmed from a 2011 visit to Bermudian Jovan Whitter, an old friend and fellow pro working at Sportsmen’s.
“[He] was running the high-performance programme there. So I went out there to initially help him out and then I got heavily involved with a lot of their programmes,” Mr Manders recalled.
Immigration roadblocks brought him back to the island but last year he got a call from Sportsmen’s asking for help.
“They thought that bringing me back to play against the number one player from Sri Lanka would be a great draw,” he said. “Sportsmen’s is also about leadership and being a good citizen. It’s the first non-profit, all-black-run organisation in history. It started in 1961.
“Now they’re actually implementing a lot of their programmes throughout the US in inner-city areas and lower-income areas.
“The kids that we’re dealing with there, some of them can’t afford a 50-cent candy, so there’s quite a bit more hardship there, which opened my eyes to be able to show some of the kids here that we have it pretty good.
“Not that Bermuda doesn’t have its issues. I know that we do have some poverty here.”
He said the need to give back is something that was instilled in him early by his family and Steve Bean, who coached him as a junior player.
“My coach, Sam Maybury, is another advocate who has kept me deeply involved with grass roots even here in Bermuda,” he said. Mr Maybury will help Mr Manders build his mentorship programme, which he has partnered with Sportsmen’s to create an exchange programme.
“We’re hoping to create a relationship where we can be mutually beneficial to each other,” Mr Manders said.
“That’s one of the biggest things for us. For tennis to even survive, we need to be able to give the opportunity to some of those kids that wouldn’t normally get to play but still have the athleticism and the abilities and the gifts to be successful. For me, being number one and travelling is more to help the next generation.
“At this point, I don’t have anything to prove. I still enjoy the competition, I still enjoy representing Bermuda, but it’s more for giving the next generation something to look up to and using my legacy and game to help build the future.”
Sportsmen’s offers close to 50 programmes, including GED certification for lower-income adults, after-school programmes and a USTA-sponsored school of excellence.
“For me, it was meeting some kids that hadn’t been given that sort of mentorship, that sort of energy from someone,” Mr Manders said.
“The way that they reciprocated the love and appreciation has stuck with me and that’s why I try to get out there to help whenever I can. When you can feel that you’re making a difference through a child, that’s something very special and it’s something that I try to do here as well.”
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