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A Family Tradition of Service

Katie Overholtz and Rita Dotson

In 2001, Rita and Ed Dotson started Tennis-4-Everyone to introduce the sport of tennis to underserved communities. It was their goal to provide high-quality instruction for free to those who could not afford it and otherwise may never be exposed to tennis.

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As a way to provide community service and combine the sport she loved, Emily Dawson knew about Tennis-4-Everyone and started a racket round-up to support the program. Emily was the captain of the Booker T. Washington High School tennis team, winning regionals, and then competing in state in both singles and doubles, along with her teammates.

She knew that plenty of people bought equipment with the hopes of trying out the sport or were avid players who regularly upgraded rackets, leaving the old ones piled in the garage. So, Emily contacted neighbors and friends of her parents asking for donations of old rackets and the donations poured in.

Currently, the Tennis-4-Everyone program visits three community centers each week. They provide free tennis instruction and homework assistance for the kids attending the after-school programs at E.S. Cobb and the Fricker and Woodland Heights Community Centers. In addition, the nonprofit raised funds to construct tennis courts at Oakcrest Elementary School.

The Physical Education classes utilize the courts during the school year. After hours and on weekends, the courts are open to the public.

Emily graduated from BTWHS, then graduated from the University of Florida, and is now finishing up her third year of medical school at Florida International University. But ten years later, her racket round-up continues with her younger sister, Katie Overholtz. Katie is a tenth grader at Catholic High School and recently delivered a donation of 60 rackets to Rita’s program.

Using money earned from babysitting, Katie donated new grips for the rackets and Pedro regripped each of the 60 rackets. Katie and her mother, Gaye Overholtz, then delivered the rackets to the Tennis-4-Everyone program.

The rackets were donated by tennis pro, Pedro Roese, who has Pensacola Tennis & Pickleball. Pedro had an impressive career as a tennis player with the University of West Florida, as the NCAA DII National Champion in both 2014 and 2017. He went on to be an assistant coach at UWF, before beginning his private tennis instruction. Pensacola Tennis & Pickle offers a variety of programs for beginners to advanced, including private lessons, group lessons, group clinics, and afterschool programs for ages 4 and up.

For more information about Pensacola Tennis & Pickleball, visit the website here: www.rgtenniscenter.com 

The coaches from Tennis-4-Everyone also volunteer their time to hold Special Olympics tennis practice every Saturday at the Roger Scott Tennis Center.

More than 20 years later, Rita & Ed Dotson’s effort to provide a great activity to children continues to serve our community. The idea of a tenth grader also continues ten years later with the efforts made by her younger sister.

Together Rita, Ed, Gaye, Emily, Katie, and Pedro along with countless others in the tennis community have woven the quilt of community a little tighter for the thousands of children they’ve served.

Thank you to everyone who moves about in quiet ways throughout our Pensacola community – seeing a need and filling it – with your time, talents, and gifts. You are what makes Pensacola such a great place to live.

 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.