Michael-Ray Pallares knows his days as a professional tennis player are winding down. He can’t help, however, but marvel at what the game has given him.
He won prominent United State Tennis Association (USTA) championships as a junior, capturing titles at the same events also won by Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Arthur Ashe in the past. He earned a college scholarship to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where the Crimson Tide was one of the top 10 teams in the country. He played Davis Cup tennis for the Dominican Republic, and has had a long career playing American Tennis Professional (ATP) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) events around the world.
Tennis also has given him a mission.
Pallares, an Arbor Greene resident the past 10 years, is hoping to bring tennis locally to those in Tampa’s inner city who can’t normally afford to play it or have no access to the game. He is currently working on an event in Tampa to do just that.
Pallares founded One Love Tennis Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization designed to reach underprivileged and low-income youth through affordable tennis, education and fitness, in 2011.
One Love Visits Africa
He has organized a few events for his One Love Tennis, but he says one he brought last month to Africa has inspired him to do even more.
While playing in a ITF tournament in Zimbabwe, he was asked by fellow tour player Patrick Mufumbila to join him afterwards in Zambia for a charity event. Pallares agreed, and the two players traveled two hours by plane to Livingstone, in the Southern Province of Zambia.
Mufumbila, a 21-year-old lefty who is one of Zambia’s Davis Cup hopefuls, and Pallares, the 35-year-old New Tampa resident, played an exhibition match for 20 orphans at the Livingstone Royal Tennis Club in the Mukuni Village, roughly four miles from Victoria Falls, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”
“To be able to coordinate this event with Patrick was amazing because not only were the kids able to see what a professional match looks like, they were also able to watch a local (African) player as well, so they can think, ‘Hey, that could be me one day,’” Pallares says.
Afterward, Pallares organized a daylong tennis clinic for the children, including games and prizes. “It was basically a whole day to give the kids a chance to get out of their normal routine,’’ he says. “They were really interested. All of the kids picked it up very quickly, and they all really enjoyed it.”
The Nomad Sports Academy for orphans helped organize the event. The academy currently takes care of 200 orphans (Zambia has more than one million orphans countrywide) and works, “to give our children a chance to train their bodies and minds in order to become leaders of tomorrow and to break the chains of poverty and shame and tell their story to the world.”
Created in 2010 by a Canadian couple, the Nomad Academy works closely with the Butterfly Tree Charity, which supports children in rural villages, by helping to provide improved health and education facilities, safe water and sanitation, feeding programs, and health centers contributing to the fight against diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS throughout Zambia.
Pallares, who is currently in southeast Asia playing ITF tournaments in Vietnam and Indonesia, says that when he returns to Tampa he will begin organizing something similar to what he did in Zambia for local areas in need.
“I would love to do something (similar) in Tampa to help with inner city kids, and hope to get it organized by December,’’ Pallares says. “Just a day for those kids to come out and play tennis, to introduce them to the sport. There are a lot of kids who could be really good at it and enjoy it, but other sports are a lot easier to play — you can just go up to the playground with a ball. But, with the right opportunity, who knows?”
To help with the One Love Tennis inner city tennis event or participate as a sponsor, email Michael-Ray Pallares at firstname.lastname@example.org.