Jonathan G. Epstein and Martin Mulligan Sr. Spirit of Tennis Scholarship Award Winners Embark on College Journeys with Support from FILA/USTA Foundation
(FILA North America) – Earlier this summer, FILA announced the inaugural winners of its Spirit of Tennis Scholarships in support of the USTA Foundation’s National Junior Tennis and Learning (NTJL) Network.
Imelda Soto-Garcia (NJTL of Trenton, New Jersey) received one of the $15,000 scholarships, named in honor of former President of FILA North America Jonathan G. Epstein, while the second was awarded to VanDer Woody (NJTL of Metropolitan Tennis & Education Group) in honor of Martin Mulligan Sr., a longtime Global Tennis Marketing Executive for FILA. Mulligan Sr. has worked with FILA for more than four decades, helping the brand make its initial foray into tennis by signing Bjorn Borg to the brand in the 1970s.
Soto-Garcia and Woody were both selected to receive this USTA Foundation scholarship on the basis of their exemplary character and demonstrated commitment to making a positive impact in their communities both on and off the tennis court.
“Tennis is FILA’s heritage, and it’s a real honor to know that these scholarships will go toward two kids that show incredible potential not just in tennis but in their greater lives,” Mulligan Sr. said. “We know that these scholarships are in amazing hands with Imelda and VanDer.”
Soto-Garcia is starting college as a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this fall, where she plans to major in engineering. She cited her experience as both a tennis player and volunteer coach on the court, as being critical in helping her gain confidence with the English language as a non-native speaker.
“Tennis helped me come out of my shell and communicate with people more,” Soto-Garcia said. “I got more comfortable talking to people, I learned about myself, and I met new people through the sport.”
After college, Soto-Garcia said her goal is to aid her home state of New Jersey in designing solutions around the issues of public housing and sustainability. Hailing from a low-income family, her goal is to utilize her education to give back meaningfully to her community and engineer change that helps people who have come from similar circumstances.
“New Jersey is very industrial, and we have a lot of abandoned buildings, so I want to find ways to convert those spaces into livable houses or apartments,” she said. “I want to help so that people can focus on their individual goals instead of focusing on whether they are going to have a home or not.”
Carol Epstein is thrilled Soto-Garcia received the scholarship named in her late husband's honor. After learning that Soto-Garcia shared the unrelenting desire to help those around her, she said, “It’s perfect to see this award going to someone who is so driven to pursuing her dreams and dedicated to making her community a better place. She really exemplifies what Jon’s life was all about, helping others and doing it with enthusiasm.”
VanDer Woody, the recipient of the Martin Mulligan Sr. Spirit of Tennis Grant, epitomizes the sacrifice and perseverance that the scholarship is meant to reward.
A Baltimore native, Woody grew up in a household where financial security was not always a given. He cited the mental aspect of tennis as having a massive impact in teaching him important life lessons that have gotten him to where he is today.
“Tennis has built up my mental toughness so much and has just showed me that you need to have that mindset in life in general,” Woody said. “Being in situations on the court where I’m down love-forty and have to fight through in a must-win game have taught me just how to trust myself and have confidence and believe in my abilities.”
Now a freshman student-athlete on the tennis team at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Woody plans to study business and pursue a career in entrepreneurial real estate after graduation. He hopes that the Spirit of Tennis Scholarships will continue to be a force for good in the lives of other young tennis players around the county in the future.
“Tennis has helped overcome a lot of obstacles in my life and I think this scholarship will help me continue to do that wherever my future takes me,” Woody said. “It just shows that there is light out there in the world and there are people out there willing to support you and help you along your journey."