How the program started
TOP, or Tennis Opportunity Program was founded in 1989 by tennis pro, Roger Mitten, who, at the time, was also working for Pitney Bowes in Chicago. His motivation was to give economically disadvantaged children more than just a few clinics in the name of "participation." His interest was to take the lessons of tennis to a higher level and use them to promote excellence as players, students, and citizens.
Between 1989 and 1996, 1500 children were introduced to tennis through TOP. During this period, the children ranged between ages 8 and 10 years old. The focus was on those who were good students and exhibited tennis skills. However, TOP lacked the funding to provide academic tutoring and an intense on-court training regime. In 1996, as the level of funding increased, TOP changed its focus from that of introducing large numbers of children to the game of tennis, to that of coaching those who had established themselves as good players and good students, but nevertheless were economically disadvantaged and thus lacked the opportunity to further their tennis development. The belief was that as children became competitive players, their self-esteem would rise, and the lessons they learned that served them well on court would enhance other more important areas of their lives, such as academics and citizenship.
TOP began to focus on providing participants with financial assistance, tennis coaching, and academic mentoring. The desire was to have the participants understand that achievement in a sport without achievement in academics and life is not true success. In essence, the shift was from helping children participate in tennis, to helping children achieve overall excellence.
In 1999, TOP added a division called Future Stars to introduce younger children, ages four to ten years of age, to tennis. In its history, the total number of participants served each year, depending on available funds, has ranged from 15 to 185. Between 1989 and 1996, approximately 185 children participated each year; between 1997 and 2002, due to change in focus, 15 to 25 children participated. Currently, 30 children are in the program.