Cactus Open 2017

By Tamara Juarez, February 2017 Web Exclusive.

For the past two decades, the Cactus Tennis Alliance (CTA) has offered LGBTQ members from across the Valley a space to share their passion for tennis and meet other tennis enthusiasts. As a drop-in sports group, the CTA encourages diversity on and off the court, and believes that “love” should represent more than just a score.

This season, the CTA will host its sixth annual Cactus Open, a three-day tournament that unites local athletes and celebrates diversity in sports, Feb. 11-13 at the Phoenix Tennis Center, located on 21st Avenue between Glendale Avenue and Bethany Home Road.

This event is one of 70 tournaments managed by the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating safe and inclusive spaces for tennis players of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

The GLTA supports various sport leagues from around the world and coordinates tournaments in Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, Italy, the United States, and many other countries.

The Cactus Open is expected to attract 45 to 50 players from across the western U.S. and loyal Phoenix fans. Participants will compete based on rank, which includes divisions from A (more advanced players) through D (beginners). All registered players are guaranteed two matches.

According to Omar Garcia, tournament director, the Cactus Open offers participants a unique way to build friendships and increase physical activity in a welcoming environment.

“The purpose of this tournament to have fun and meet other people,” he said. “We want others to come out and play tennis without worrying about prejudice so they can just enjoy their time with other LGBT[Q] members. We’re very supportive of each other, and if you’re new to the sport, it’s the perfect way to introduce yourself to tennis.”

The event will begin with a welcome party Feb. 10 (venue TBD), after all players have checked-in and received their player bags. Matches will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12. A player’s banquet is scheduled for the evening of Feb. 12, and semifinals and finals will begin eb. 13, followed by the trophy presentation.

For this year’s tournament, the CTA has chosen to sponsor one•n•ten, a nonprofit organization that provides LGBTQ youth, ages 14-24, with a variety of resources that promote self‐expression, self-acceptance, and healthy life choices.

According to Nate Rhoton, one•n•ten’s development director, the donation from the CTA will help fund the organization’s youth center, which is a safe space where LGBTQ youth can receive professional guidance and support.

“We’re extremely honored that the Cactus Tennis Alliance chose to sponsor one•n•ten,” Rhoton said. “The youth center is more difficult to obtain grant funding for than other programs, such as housing, so these third-party fundraisers that one•n• ten is a recipient of is really a big source of funding that allows us to operate the youth center.”

Garcia, who has worked as the tournament director for the past three years, said he is excited to see the CTA increase its impact on the Phoenix LGBTQ community in addition to its efforts as a diverse tennis group with a focus on inclusivity.

The CTA meets every Friday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and every Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. Each weekend, more a dozen participants gather at the Phoenix Tennis Center for the competitive and noncompetitive matches. Weekly matches include a $10 participation fee.

Eric Hunter, a committee member for the CTA, said he hopes to see the Cactus Open grow within the next couple of years, because it allows the LGBTQ community to mingle, practice a sport they love and feel a sense of accomplishment by improving their tennis skills.

“I have friends from different countries and every state in the U.S., because we play in their cities and go on adventures during our trips, then we help them once they’re in Phoenix,” he said. “The Cactus Open is just a great community builder, and it encourages a healthy life style.”

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