MacArthur High School girls’ varsity tennis team members constantly serve — in more ways than one.
The Lady Generals were named the High School Team of the Year at the 27th annual U.S. Tennis Association Long Island Region Awards, held at the Chateau Briand Caterers in Carle Place on May 3. According to the Levittown School District, the team received the honor for its community service.
The squad amassed a 7-7 record during the fall 2016 season, after finishing 2015 with a record of 13-1 and tying for first place in Conference III-B. Dr. Tonie McDonald, Levittown’s superintendent, said that while district officials were proud of the team’s athletic accomplishments last October, they were equally impressed by their philanthropic endeavors during the 2016-17 academic year.
Principal Joseph Sheehan explained that, in the past six years, National Autism Awareness Month fundraisers, projects and activities have become part of the culture of MacArthur. The high school takes in students from Levittown and northern Wantagh and Seaford.
Each year, a committee of students begins planning at the end of March for an April full of art projects, fundraisers and educational programs about autism and related disorders. The tennis team, with the help of Coach Phil Machmer, decided to get in on the action this year.
“They were very proactive on this,” said Machmer, who has coached both the girls’ and boys’ teams for almost a decade. “I really enjoyed seeing this team become a team, and come together and continue to keep a positive mentality.”
The 15-member girls’ team, along with some members of the boys’ squad, organized a clinic called Aces for Autism on the school courts on April 18. More than a dozen students enrolled in MacArthur’s Applied Behavior Analysis program — for those with autism and other related disorders — participated in the program, practicing their serves and playing in a few games.
Teachers and volunteers from every grade also came out to support the clinic, helping the tennis players decorate the courts with colorful puzzle pieces. Girls’ Co-Captain Alyssa Breeze said it was an incredible day.
“We didn’t know how it would turn out because none of us have ever planned something like this before,” she said. “I’m just really glad that the ABA students had a fun time.”
Through the sale of T-shirts and baked goods, the team also raised $450 for multiple autism-awareness charities. Captain Kristen Cassidy noted that although the fundraising portion of the program was important, the team’s main focus was getting the ABA students involved in the sport.
“You can raise money for autism, and that’s amazing,” she said, “but to really have an effect in the community, you need to physically involve the autistic kids.”
The team’s community service project didn’t go unnoticed by the USTA, a national nonprofit with more than 700,000 members. The Long Island chapter aims to “bring tennis to people of all ages and skill levels,” according to the group’s website.
Regional leaders recognized the Lady Generals for their volunteerism and community involvement at the awards dinner. In addition to receiving the High School Team of the Year Award, members of the team also had the opportunity to meet Gigi Fernandez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who has won 17 Grand Slam titles. Several players said that chatting with Fernandez was the most exciting part of the night.
“To get to do this, and earn this title before everyone graduated, really helps establish a sense of community,” Cassidy said. “I really hope this is something that will be continued.”