Grovers are ‘Something Special’ to Richmond Tennis

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Grovers are ‘Something Special’ to Richmond Tennis

When Joe and Shima Grover moved to Richmond in 2005, they wanted to quickly get involved in the tennis scene. The couple had been very active in tennis programs in Midland, Mich, and knew Richmond had a great reputation.

“The first thing we did was join Raintree, so we could play tennis,” said Shima. “The second thing we did was we went looking for the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center, because we thought we would like to volunteer to promote tennis in Richmond.

“We were shocked. The Arthur Ashe Athletic Center was next to a ball park [the Diamond]. The doors were all locked. We peeked through little panes of glass on the door and didn’t see any tennis courts. So we didn’t know where to go to volunteer for tennis.”

It didn’t take much longer for the Grovers to find the Richmond Tennis Association, which is the area’s main organization that promotes the game, and not long afterward, they became deeply involved in the RVA tennis scene.

“We knew Hugh Waters and Paddi Valentine from our service with the USTA [U.S. Tennis Association],” said Joe, “and soon connected with Lou Einwick. Lou has been a good friend ever since we arrived in Richmond and has been a valued advisor and sounding board for us.”

Once the Grovers were fully accepted, both have volunteered their time liberally for the RTA and the city of Richmond, helping many young Richmonders get thelr start in tennis and promoting the increasingly popular wheelchair game locally.

Because they have tirelessly given of their energy to so many causes revolving around tennis since they arrived in RVA, the Grovers will be inducted into the Richmond Tennis Hall of Fame during a gala dinner and celebration Oct. 28 at the Westwood Club.

Tickets for the affair are available at richmondtennis.org.

The Grovers met at Alma (Mich.) College en route to chemistry degrees and were married in 1962. Joe earned his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, while Shima completed a master’s degree.

Outside of Joe learning how to play tennis “on his own” in high school, the Grovers didn’t get involved in the game until after they settled in Midland, Mich., and their son began taking lessons. So the Grovers began taking lessons, too.

“They had a great tennis facility there,” said Joe., “They’re a very tennis-oriented community.”

“Actually Midland, Michigan, was awarded the best tennis town [in America] title in USTA’s best tennis town contest in 2009,” said Shima, 77, who is a native of Tokyo. “Richmond was named the third-best tennis town the following year.”

“So it certainly had to be because we moved to Richmond,” joked Joe , 76 , a native of Breckenridge, Mich.

The Grovers credited Waters and Eric Perkins for directing the campaign that solicited enough votes for Richmond to finish third in the 2010 national contest. But the couple has certainly made their own presence felt in a number of ways since moving here.

The couple came mainly because their daughter is working as a physician in Richmond.

“There were two elements,” said Joe. “One was we had a child that had moved here and that child had moved to a warmer climate. We wanted a warmer spot than Midland and our son had settled in Ann Arbor [Mich].

“So we came down, took a look around, and said it looks pretty good. There’s lots of tennis. We thought we could be of help to our daughter because she’s a surgical oncologist and works late hours, and we could be help when she had a family.”

Shortly after getting here, the Grovers gave their USTA tickets to the RTA for a raffle that allowed the group to pad its bank account.

“We were making $10,000 to $12,000 a year off the raffle of those tickets,” said Fred Bruner, former RTA president. “It was a huge benefit to us to have those funds. I was amazed, shocked, impressed by what caring people they were.

“Not being from Richmond, they were really anxious to become part of the Richmond tennis community. Do anything they could to help. They have provided great leadership in a lot of areas but even  

“They’re a fixture in places around town where tennis is being introduced. They’re something special. I’ve never seen anything like it. They maintain the Arthur Ashe statue [on Monument Avenue]. If anything needs to be done, they’re there to do it.”

After initially becoming heavily involved as volunteers in Midland, the Grovers eventually served on a number of USTA committees. Joe was elected to the board of directors in 2005 and served as a vice-president for four years, though he is not on a commsmeittee now.

Actually both have been volunteering at the local, district, sectional and national levels for 40 years.

Shima, however, is vice chairman of the USTA’s wheelchair tennis committee. One of her pet projects is the Midlothian Athletic Club Wheelchair Open, which is held every spring at the Chesterfield County facility.

“We didn’t really get into wheelchair tennis until 2008 when Joe was representing USTA in the Beijing Paralympics,” said Shima. “There we sat down with Nick Taylor, a quadriplegic wheelchair player and gold medalist in three consecutive Paralympics.

“We heard about how little support wheelchair players get in the U.S. compared to European countries.”

So Shima helped establish the MAC Wheelchair Open, which has been held at the MAC for the past eight years, and last June featured  players from Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania as well as Virginia.

“Shima also started a clinic program for wheelchair tennis players,” said Joe, “and we’ve been gratified to see there’s a couple of [local] young players who have benefited from participation. One is a fourth grader and the other is graduating from high school.”

As for Joe, he has served as the president of the RTA (2012) and is currently on the board of directors. Shima, incidentally, is a member of the RTA’s advisory board, so both of them are keenly attuned to the local scene.

Joe, in particular, is interested in trying to get as many new players into the game as possible.

“Here in the city of Richmond, we have more than 100 courts,” said Joe. “Some are in excellent condition and some are in reprehensible condition. What we are trying to do is promote more community play on these courts by encouraging and establishing low–cost to no-cost clinics for children and adults of all ages.

“We’ve learned that tennis is considered to be the absolute best cardio-beneficial sport because of the type of play you have. Testing and follow-up studies have concluded that the healthiest population is people who participate in racquet sports and tennis leads the pack.

“So it’s good for us to play it and even better is getting our kids involved because it teaches so many lessons of honesty, integrity, respect for your opponents, respect for other people, and … calling your own lines helps develop ethical standards.”

Together, the Grovers have organized junior tournaments at historic Battery Park on the North Side. By keeping the entry fees low, these events have not only been appealing to inner-city families but also to the suburban kids.

“Not only did we get to know the community in the city of Richmond,” said Shima, “but we also found, since the costs were low, that suburban families discovered the value in it and many of them came to Battery Park for the first time and appreciated the historical and beautiful park with its courts.

“So we really felt like we accomplished a cross-cultural [environment] and also created value for all types of tennis players.”

Among other awards, the Grovers were named Tennis Industry magazine’s 2014 tennis advocates of the year. The previous year, they were chosen as volunteers of the year in the Virginia district of the USTA.

“I think you can say they are the most dedicated people helping out tennis that you will find anywhere,” said Einwick. “We were very, very lucky to have them move here. They have done a wonderful job. They keep promoting tennis in a multiplicity of ways.”

Fortunately for the Richmond area, the Grovers aren’t going anywhere – except to volunteer at the next tournament.

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