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Pushing Limits and Changing Lives Through Tennis

Tina McCall-Waters wanted to give back and she took action. McCall-Waters is the founder of the Denton Johnson Tennis Corporation (DJTC) that serves at-risk and minority youths in her community, Eatonville, Florida. “I envisioned a youth tennis and education complex that will create a safe haven where kids can go after school and have access to computers, mentors, nutrition, and learn the game of tennis in a collaborative setting,” McCall-Waters states.

An accomplished tennis player, McCall-Waters has broken many barriers both personally and historically. Over twenty years later, the change-maker is still on a mission to give back to the tennis world that taught her many valuable life lessons while opening doors for her. “Tennis is good for your health, and as one of my dear friends loves to say, ‘Health is wealth,’” says McCall-Waters. “I live by the phrase, to whom much is given, much is required.”

Recently, VBD Magazine had the distinct pleasure of interviewing McCall-Waters. She discusses the establishment of DJTC, the services offered, and the relentless journey that sky-rocketed her to tennis stardom. Read on and get a timely moment of encouragement as you learn more about this trailblazer.


“No one in life really makes it on their own.  One day, back in 1968, Mr. Denton “Pop” Johnson came into my life with a “vision” that I did not understand at that time. As a young Black girl growing up in Eatonville, Florida, I was simply enjoying life, one day at a time.  Mr. Johnson initiated Eatonville’s first tennis program and it was my good fortune to be his first student, at the age of 8. Mr. Johnson explained to my family and me how this game of tennis could change my life, how this game would open doors for me, and take me off the dirt roads in Eatonville and give me a “free” education.

The open doors that Mr. Johnson spoke of allowed me to play competitive tennis in tournaments across the United States, resulting in state and national rankings. I achieved a level of play where I was selected to represent the State of Florida in team competition, a level of play to receive a full tennis scholarship to Indiana University, and a level of play to compete professionally in the Women’s tennis tour for two years.”


In 1978, Indiana Coach Lin Loring recruited McCall-Waters and she became the first African American female to receive a tennis scholarship to Indiana University. That opportunity would set McCall-Waters on a trajectory to career success and personal fulfillment.

Her accomplishments are impressive:

· Awarded “All-American” status in junior and senior years​.

· First African American from central Florida to earn recognition at state and national levels.​

· First African American to receive a 4-year tennis scholarship at Indiana University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Marketing​.

· Earned Big 10 Championship titles 4 years at Indiana University, while playing singles and doubles at the #1 and #2 positions, respectively.

· Played singles and doubles while maintaining a Top 8 United States Tennis Association (USTA) ranking in the State of Florida for ages 14-18​.

· Ranked in USTA Top 20 in the State of Florida for ages 10-13.​


Playing tennis became McCall-Waters favorite sport, although she played every sport there was with her siblings. “Playing competitive tennis took me away from my family so each time I traveled to play in a tournament, I dedicated it to a family member, and I did my best to bring home the trophy. When I received a full scholarship to Indiana University, I wanted to make Mr. Johnson and my family proud.

It seems as if I have done okay; in 2018 I was inducted into Edgewater’s Hall of Fame, in 2020, Indiana University identified me as the winner of the Leanne Grotke Award, and I was inducted into the American Tennis Association’s Black Tennis Hall of Fame. I have tried to live my life as a role model for youths in the Central Florida communities. I have learned to give from my heart, to believe in myself and what I have to offer, and to never give up.”


DJTC, a 501c (3) not-for-profit organization, was established by McCall-Waters in 2001. The mission of DJTC is to bring tennis into the lives of at-risk and minority youths in a way that has lasting effects on their academic future and overall success.

“I named the company as a tribute to the life and legacy of Mr. Denton “Pop” Johnson. After being on tour for 2 1/2 years, I decided to return home and start a tennis program in his honor to give back to my community, the same opportunities I had received—to play a sport, to see the world and travel, and to get a “free” education.

“My philosophy evolved out of what I learned from Mr. Denton “Pop” Johnson, namely that I should always be willing and working to help someone else. He constantly reminded me to give back, telling me that I would be blessed because of my giving spirit. He taught me that one person can and should have influence. As a mentor, Mr. Johnson asked that each of his protégés give back to the community in any way possible. I have tried to do that through DJTC.”

DJTC continues to mentor and make a difference in the lives of participants. Noteworthy accomplishments include:

· 2003: 9 youth were failing at Hungerford Elementary, and because of UCF volunteers, all students were promoted to the next grade level​.

· 2002-2003: 48 youth participants in Red Rally USTA competition in Florida.

· 2002-2003: Recognized as NJTL “Chapter of the Year” by USA Tennis – Florida.​

· 2003-2004: 24 youth participated in Team Tennis USTA in Florida​.

· 2004-2005: 18 youth play competitively ranked 3.5 or higher in sanctioned and non-sanctioned competition.​

· 2004-2005: 1 player from program played on Edgewater High School Varsity Tennis team #3 singles & 2 doubles (Ebony Johnson)

· 2004-2006: 2 players from the program played on Edgewater High School Varsity tennis team #2 doubles (Tara Beacham and Vanessa McCall)

· 2006-2008: Tara Beacham played #1 single & #1 doubles for Edgewater High School Varsity Tennis team (Junior & Senior years)

· 2006-2008: Vanessa McCall played #5 singles & #3 doubles for Edgewater High School Varsity

· 2008: 2 players received tennis scholarships to colleges in Florida (Tara Beacham & Vanessa McCall)

· 2009-2013: 2 players from the program played on Edgewater High School Varsity Tennis Team (Jesenia Bruno & Destinee Wheeler)

· 2013-2019: 2 players received tennis scholarships to colleges in Florida (Jesenia Bruno & Destinee Wheeler)


DJTC participates in the following programs:

· District and State Tournaments​

· National Junior Tennis League (NJTL)​

· Non-Sanctioned Play (Monthly)

· Sanctioned Play (Twice Monthly)​

· USA Florida Team Tennis​

· USTA Red Rally (Annually​)


Over the past 20 years, the DJTC has worked in partnership with multiple organizations to serve minority youth. Among some of the most notable ones are the following:

· Boys & Girls Club of Eatonville​

· Governor’s Mentoring Initiative​

· Hungerford Elementary School​

· Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church​

· Mayor’s Youth Initiative​

· National Junior Tennis League (NJTL)​

· Orange County Parks & Recreation​

· Orange County Public Schools​

· Rollins College Women’s Tennis League​

· Town of Eatonville

· United States Tennis Association (USTA)

· University of Central Florida Intramural Tennis Program​

· USA Tennis – Florida​

· Volunteer Florida Foundation​


“In 2011, I received the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Award from Kappa Alpha Psi. What I do is not really about awards; however, I do know that when you are doing something right, people tend to notice and acknowledge it. The awards that I have received let me know I should keep on keeping on as I try to positively influence the lives of youth.

“I envision Eatonville’s first dedicated Youth Tennis and Education Complex. This new facility will allow DJTC to increase the number of youths we serve by providing dedicated facilities for administration, classrooms, tennis courts, and the ability to invite competitive play to the Town of Eatonville. My view for the Youth Tennis and Education Complex is grand, and the advantages this facility can create for our community are boundless.”

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