Note: This is one in a continuing series spotlighting community tennis leaders in Southern California who are continually promoting the game.
You just don’t find guys like Gideon Smith very often. He speaks slowly, chooses his words carefully and is always quick with a kind word, even to a complete stranger he has just met on the phone.
A true gem is how he’s been described by associates; a true lover of tennis another apt description.
Smith is the current president of the Morongo Basin Tennis Association, a group that started in 1993 as a social club but became an official association under Smith’s leadership in the early 2000s with the goal of promoting tennis, especially youth tennis, in the high desert communities.
Smith said he couldn’t have done it without the continued support of the USTA and SCTA. “I remember calling the SCTA one day and everyone was out in the field, so the lady on the phone said she would transfer me to (SCTA executive director) Henry Talbert,” Smith said. “I just couldn’t believe how positive and enthusiastic he was with me. That’s when I first thought maybe we can do this. We were all so new at it. We hardly knew at the time what the USTA was, and they for sure knew nothing about us.”
Smith helped begin an Adopt a Court program and a USTA Pathway Program, USA Tennis 1-2-3 (Kids). “It should be noted, that without the guidance and support of the SCTA, the USTA and many local volunteers, the local tennis programs would not have happened”, Smith said. “Without them we would be nowhere. They have provided us with tremendous support.”
Back in May, tennis coaches from the Morongo Basin and the SCTA participated in the Wounded Warrior Family Games at Felix Field aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Portable tennis nets were set up on the football field. The Marines and families played modified tennis games using low compression balls used for 10 and Under Tennis.
“It was a day to remember,” Smith said. “We'll be back for next year’s games and do it again for sure.”
Often called the Pied Piper of the High Desert who has been called a “Hometown Hero” by his Yucca Valley community, Smith conducted the area’s first local USTA Pathway Program, USA Tennis 1-2-3 (Kids), in the summer of 2000 at Sunburst Park in Joshua Tree. Kids from six, small, widely dispersed, economically deprived rural communities came into that first youth tennis program. It was the beginning of a comprehensive tennis movement that would sweep the Morongo Basin.
From there, their programs grew to include Youth Team Tennis, USA Tennis 1-2-3 (Adult), USA School Tennis in thirteen elementary/middle schools, Peewee Tennis Camps, NJTL at three sites, Adult Team Tennis, Friday Night Adult Tournament Tennis, and Friday Night Teen Tennis.
In addition, the Morongo association initiates, manages, coaches and funds boys’ tennis teams at Yucca Valley High School and Twentynine Palms High School.
Finally, there is the youth program, Winning in Tennis – Leadership – Life, developed by Gideon Smith in 2004 and conducted annually in Yucca Valley. Winning in Tennis – Leadership – Life is an innovative, 12-week, life-skills and tennis program for boys/girls, ages 10 to 17. It helps youngsters develop self-confidence to stand up and speak out, set and achieve goals through a written plan of action, get along better with people and have fun.
USTA Serves has awarded a grant to the MBTA to take the program beyond Yucca Valley.
In conclusion, Smith said: “From our humble, obscure beginning, everything just grew and unfolded. I deeply appreciate all the support and guidance of the SCTA and USTA through the years. It truly has been a magnificent journey.”