Matthew Warren (MNA ’05) wants you to play tennis. It’s not only good for health and wellness, but it also connects you to new people and takes you to new places.
“My BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is to try to build a social movement through the game of tennis,” says Warren, executive director of the US Tennis Association (USTA) Pacific Northwest section and new member of the Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board. “I think tennis has the power to transform lives.”
It certainly transformed his in unlikely ways.
As a boy growing up in Florida, one of the most competitive states for tennis, Warren didn’t pick up a racquet until he was 14. And then he didn’t win a match in his first 10 tournaments.
“After that, I started practicing as much as possible and took a lot of private and group lessons,” he says. “I quit other sports just to concentrate on tennis.”
It paid off. Warren landed several tennis scholarship offers and choose to play at Trinity University in San Antonio, which has a strong tennis tradition. During his sophomore year, his team made it to the NCAA Final Four. During his junior year, the team won the NCAA National Championship. Warren was named an Academic All-American in his senior year. In 2013, he was inducted into the Trinity University Athletic Hall of Fame.
When he learned the team would be playing for the championship, Warren called his parents. “I wanted to tell them the great news and to thank them for their support over the years,” Warren says. “But they asked me to call a family friend. They told me, ‘She’s the one who made it possible for you to take all those lessons.’
“Until then, I didn’t know I had a benefactor.”
Profoundly touched, Warren called his benefactor. “I told her, ‘It’s because of you that I’m playing in the NCAA Final Four and national championships.’ I promised her I would work to provide the same opportunities to others.”
He has. Over the years, Warren developed a family friendly introductory program in eight states; created an after-school program that has become a national programming model; refined a league model that has more than 29,000 participants; and established a need-based scholarship program.
The USTA recruited him in 2006 to help lead efforts to fulfill its mission of encouraging people to play tennis. “We work to provide health and wellness opportunities to everyone through the game of tennis,” Warren says. “We are working to eliminate all barriers to entry and make tennis accessible and affordable regardless of age and socioeconomic background.”
It is certainly a great time to be in his (tennis) shoes. Tennis is the fastest-growing traditional sport in the U.S. with an estimated 28 million people playing nationwide. The USTA Pacific Northwest section, which encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, is seeing exponential growth: Its operating budget increased 30 percent from last year; six new staff positions were added; and four new joint venture partnerships are set to kick off this summer.
The tools and leadership skills he developed from the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) program were exactly what he needed for his current role. “Before I found the MNA program, I had applied to various law schools and public policy graduate programs around the country,” he says. “Then I heard about the Notre Dame MNA program and felt that it was a perfect fit because my vocational pull was toward the social sector. The notion of ‘Servant Heart. Business Mind’ really resonated with me. When I visited the campus for the first time, it immediately felt like home, and I was really excited to be part of the Notre Dame family.”
Warren made the most of his time at Mendoza. Not only did he help develop a South Bend tennis program, he also worked as a research assistant with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies on its Peace Accords Matrix and contributed to a winning team effort in the Gigot Center forEntrepreneurship’s Notre Dame Social Venture Plan Competition with a proposal to train youth in peace education.
He has maintained strong connections after graduation. “I keep in touch with Tom Harvey [the Luke McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development] and he has assisted me in strategic planning sessions with my board. I also contact Mendoza faculty to brainstorm, problem solve, and assess trends. It has been an invaluable resource.”
Now, he is grateful for the chance to give back through the Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back to Notre Dame and the business school, specifically. When you think about the confluence of the level of academics with the great people in the Notre Dame family, it’s a special place. And to be provided with an opportunity to give back, it’s something you can’t say no to.”