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Tennis standout turns school project into a tournament to benefit families

Senior Camila Gonzalez is seen at practice recently for McAllen High. She participates in the McAllen ISD International Baccalaureate Programme at Lamar Academy. She founded a tennis tournament, the McAllen Winter Classic, for a school project. The Classic will be December 8-10 at McAllen High School.

Tennis standout turns school project into a tournament to benefit families

Tennis has been part of Camila Gonzalez’s life since she was four years old. The courts are home for her.

Life has always revolved around the court, and even extended to her school work. For a school service project two years ago, she founded a local tennis tournament from the ground up. The McAllen Winter Classic serves as a vehicle to raise funds for local nonprofits.

“A lot of kids were in clubs and I was in tennis,” Gonzalez, who is now a senior, said. “I discussed it with my mentor, a teacher who would help us and guide us, … I went around and started talking to people. I talked to (McAllen High Tennis’) Coach (Sergio) Zepeda. Zepeda helped me so much because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

She worked with the South Texas Community Tennis Association for additional guidance. That first tournament in 2015 had nearly 100 participants. Last year, it jumped to nearly 140.

“I had always played in tournaments,” she said. “I just didn’t know the work that goes into it, the little details.”

She acquired trophies, got sponsors and even designed the tournament t-shirts herself.

The third annual McAllen Winter Classic will be December 8-10 at the McAllen High Tennis Courts.

Coach Zepeda said he guided Camila through the rigors of organizing a tournament early on but had the confidence to let her handle more of it this year.

“The last two years, I’ve helped but this year she’s doing it on her own,” he said.

Sophomores in McAllen ISD’s International Baccalaureate Programme are required to complete a personal project. Some students have composed music while others have authored cook books. Camila wanted to do something with tennis. At first, she considered painting a mural but later she got excited about the notion of organizing a tournament.

The IB is based at Lamar Academy but students can participate in sports at their “home” campus. In Gonzalez’ case, that’s McAllen High.

“We have a lot of IB kids,” Coach Zepeda said. “It’s really great to see. It’s a lot of work for them but they make the time to come out.”

The Classic is an official non-sanctioned USTA tournament held along with the South Texas Community Tennis Association. Proceeds will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House. The organization provides essential resources for families of critically ill children receiving medical care at Valley hospitals.

“Having a student, like Camila, who would take the initiative to help the community by using tennis, is something very special,” Zepeda said. “She was determined and motivated in having this tournament to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. I am very proud as a Coach to have seen Camila grow as a person and continue this tournament for the third straight year.”

This fall, the team-oriented and community minded Gonzalez spearheaded the McAllen High girls team run to claim the District 30-6A Girls Team Tennis title with an unblemished district record. Combined with the boys, the McAllen High tennis team also went 12-2 overall and claimed the District 30-6A Overall Team Tennis title.

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