CVIndependent

Tue11122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

If you’ve ever wanted to see the world, you should be envious of Rolf Hoehn.

Hoehn, a Palm Desert resident, is currently director of business development and sponsorships for Desert Champions, LLC, managers of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament. However, his story begins in Cologne, Germany, as the only child of an Austrian-Romanian stay-at-home mother, and a father who opened travel to South America for Lufthansa Airlines.

“My mother was always open to new experiences,” says Hoehn, “and through her, I learned to appreciate exposure to different cultures. My dad taught me about what it means to have a strong work ethic.

“When I was 15, we moved from Germany to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I learned Portuguese as a second language and enrolled in the American school. … About 80 percent of the children (were) of American families from, for example, the diplomatic corps in Rio. Most of the rest were foreigners, like me, and a small number were native Brazilians. I also hung out with Brazilian friends, so I learned the ‘good’ street words as well. It was a very different experience from my upbringing: different routines, different customs, basic things like different times to eat. I think the best thing I got from that experience was appreciating the way they taught us about what it meant to live in a community.”

Hoehn’s father transferred to Chicago and later Los Angeles, but Hoehn stayed in Rio for his senior year of high school before joining his parents.

“I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but my father cured me of that when he took me on a visit to the Los Angeles Times,” he says. “I decided to work in my father’s office at Lufthansa, at the time when it was a great period of growth, as the airline industry transitioned to the jet age. It was a glamorous business. “

Hoehn next went to Wisconsin to attend Lawrence University. “It was a good liberal-arts school, and I had a couple of friends from Rio who were there,” he says. “I went full-time for two years and spent summers working at JFK Airport in New York for Lufthansa, doing baggage, catering, whatever. But after two years, I couldn’t find a job to help me pay for my education. My parents were in Hong Kong, and I returned to Los Angeles and transferred into USC, studying business management.”

After working as a AAA dispatcher (“It just didn’t pay enough”), Hoehn—whose parents were then in Pakistan—got a full-time job with Lufthansa and was accepted to New York University.

“I went to Karachi to stay with my parents for two months, then to New York. I worked at the airport as a customer-service rep, but because I was working full-time, I had to drop some classes, so I got a draft notice in 1966 for the Vietnam War,” he says. “I had the choice to enlist in New York, but because I had originally registered for the draft in L.A., I went back to California. Unfortunately, Fort Ord, where I would have trained, had closed, so I was instead sent to El Paso, Texas.”

After two years in the Army, Hoehn returned to New York and back to Lufthansa, in marketing management. He worked his way up and eventually became the marketing manager for North America. His parents by then had been in Belgrade and Nairobi; after they divorced, his father went to Peru.

“I took advantage of their various locations and visited Belgrade, Hong Kong, Karachi, Nairobi and Lima,” Hoehn says.

In 1981, Hoehn transferred to London as Lufthansa’s deputy director for the United Kingdom. He was later based in Kuwait, in charge of operations for three years.

“This was a very interesting period, during the Iran-Iraq war,” he says. “Being in that environment, I was exposed to the Middle East cultures. I was in Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates and Oman. Then it was back to New York, and I was promoted to general manager for sales and marketing for North America.”

So … how did he get involved with tennis?

“My father was an avid tennis player, and very good at it. I grew up playing tennis,” he says. “Part of the Lufthansa marketing portfolio was sports marketing, and my boss in Germany was also an avid tennis player. Lufthansa became the sponsor of the ATP Tour, later sponsoring other tournaments as well. My introduction to tennis here in the Coachella Valley was in 1986, when the site was at Hyatt Grand Champions. I developed a great relationship with tennis greats Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore.”

In the early 1990s, Hoehn was head of sports marketing for Lufthansa, with offices in both Los Angeles and Frankfurt; during that time, Lufthansa was named the official airline of the International Olympic Committee.

Hoehn took early retirement in 1996 and began a consulting group in Los Angeles—but after a call came in 1998, he got back into the airline business, running the western division of Aeromexico.

By then, Hoehn and his second wife, Christy, were looking to move away from L.A. With their connections to the Coachella Valley, they settled here in 1999, with Hoehn commuting into L.A. Then, in 2000, he was asked to take over all operations in the U.S. for Aeromexico; he commuted back and forth from Palm Desert to the office in Houston and, every Wednesday, Mexico City. By 2004, Hoehn had tired of the constant travel and returned to private consulting.

After rekindling his relationship with the local tennis venue, in 2006, Hoehn became director of sales, and is now in charge of business development and sponsorships, working on everything that generates revenue—ticketing, hotel package programs, sponsorships, etc.

Hoehn is currently Palm Desert’s representative on the Palm Springs International Airport Commission and is vice chairman of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When asked if he has a bucket list, Hoehn immediately responds: “I want to be able to get in the car and take three weeks of vacation at once, uninterrupted and disconnected.” He also beams about his step-daughter Ashley’s 18-year-old son, Hoehn’s only grandchild. “He’s taller than I am now!”

So will Hoehn ever fully retire? “I’ll work as long as I’m having fun,” he says. “I can’t see myself living to just sit around or play golf. If you slow down, your body slows down as well. I intend to stay active as long as I can.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

As the 2019 edition of the BNP Paribas Open shifted into high gear, the world’s best tennis players battled the weather, injuries, illness and each other for the trophies and the $1.3 million men’s and women’s singles championship checks that were handed out in Stadium 1 on St. Patrick’s Day.

The feel-good story of the tournament—and perhaps of the year in tennis—was Bianca Andreescu. The 18-year-old Canadian, a wild-card entrant into the BNP Paribas Open, defeated four opponents ranked in the Top 20 as she made her improbable march toward the championship, delivering a masterful show of grit and talent.

Andreescu was the talk of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as she made her improbable run toward the title of the tennis world’s “fifth major.” Last year, Naomi Osaka flew under the radar to win her first big tournament, starting down a road that led to last year’s U.S. Open singles title win over Serena Williams; the Australian Open women’s title; and a return to the Coachella Valley as the No. 1 player in the world. (Osaka lost her bid to repeat as champ in the round of 16 to Belinda Bencic.) Only time will tell us if Andreescu can emulate such a meteoric climb, after winning the hearts of the 16,000-plus spectators as she struggled against the sudden return of warm weather and the (mostly) solid strokes of three-time Grand Slam winner and eighth-ranked Angelique Kerber, before winning in three sets.

On the men’s side, the ATP’s fourth-ranked player, perennial fan favorite Roger Federer, walked onto the Stadium 1 court late on Sunday afternoon as the odds-on favorite against seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria. Federer had not lost a set on his way to the final, and had just come off an unexpected day of rest when longtime nemesis/friend Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from their highly anticipated semifinal due to a recurring knee injury. (Thiem gained an extra day of rest earlier in the week as well, when the ever-entertaining French shot-making maestro Gael Monfils had to withdraw.) While Federer jumped out to an early lead and appeared to be back in control late in the third and final set, it was Thiem who rose to the occasion, taking the title 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

One other highlight of came courtesy of tournament director and former ATP pro Tommy Haas, who skillfully filled the open spot in Saturday’s schedule (due to Nadal’s withdrawal) by luring No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic—who had been upset in the third round—and tennis legends Pete Sampras and John McEnroe onto the court for a lively and fun-filled one-set doubles exhibition that was refereed by comedian John Lovitz.

Scroll down to see photos from the final days of the BNP Paribas Open.

Published in Snapshot

When entering the painstakingly manicured 121-acre grounds of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden for Day 1 of the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty offered up by both the Coachella Valley itself and the iconic sporting event that makes its home here.

The BNP Paribas Open was voted the Tournament of the Year in 2018 by both ATP men and WTA women for the fifth consecutive year, and one is immediately enveloped by the gorgeous vistas and the excitement spurred when all the best tennis players in the world converge here—but beyond the beautiful surroundings, this event is also defined by the many residents of our valley who fill all types of roles crucial to the success of this two-week tennis bacchanal.

From ball persons to security personnel, to groundskeepers and ushers, you’ll find CV residents present to welcome throngs of fans—totaling more than 450,000 last year. (To see photos of just a few of our involved neighbors, scroll down below.)

The on-court competition ramps up gradually from Days 1 and 2, when the qualifying matches for the main draw play out across the 29 courts. For the first time this year, the night of Day 2 featured the Eisenhower Cup event, a curious hybrid exhibition/competition featuring eight of the world’s best-known ATP players engaged in a form of high-speed tennis known as Tie-Break-Ten. Hosted in its inaugural appearance by perennial fan favorite Rafael Nadal, the world’s No. 2-ranked player, the players face off in four quarterfinal matches, followed by two semi-finals and then the championship, which was won by Milos Raonic.

While the uncharacteristically cold and wet winter weather showed up again as play was about to begin, it could not dampen the fun or attraction of the risk-taking tennis that entertained the crowd late into the night. All proceeds from ticket sales are to be donated to local charities—making this kickoff event a true celebration of the best the world of sports can deliver.

See images from the opening days of the BNP Paribas Open below.

Published in Snapshot

Through swirling winds and unusually cool temperatures, the 2018 BNP Paribas Open’s final weekend was marked by tense yet surprisingly lackluster play on both of the draw.

With the exceptions of the electric semifinal loss by Venus Williams to No. 20 underdog Daria Kasatkina, and world No. 1 Roger Federer’s thrilling comeback in his semifinal win over Borna Coric, moments of stellar play proved few and far between.

Upset victories remained the order of the tournament, with both singles’ championship matches on Sunday producing unexpected winners. First up was the women’s match, with Russian star Kasatkina facing Naomi Osaka of Japan. While Kasatkina had thrilled fans with her determined take-down of crowd-favorite Williams in a long and brilliant semifinal battle on Friday night, she could not muster that level of play in the final, as she lost rather quickly, 6-3 6-2, to Osaka.

Next up was the highly anticipated men’s final, with crowd-favorite Federer attempting to defend his title against No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. Other than a tight second-set tiebreaker in which Federer managed to prevail, 10-8, play was ho-hum, with on-court tension more of a product of the players’ discontent with the chair umpire, line judges and the rowdy, packed-house crowd. In the end, del Potro walked away with the third-set tiebreaker, 7-2, and the title.

“In the finals, you know, you must be playing in all the ways, not just tennis,” del Potro observed during the post-match press conference. “Unfortunately, I couldn't stay calm in the tiebreak of the second set, but then the calms came again in the end of the match, and I played good in the tiebreak.”

When Federer was asked post-match about the uncharacteristic bursts of anger he showed throughout the final match, he said, diplomatically: “I don't even remember half of it, to be honest. I don’t want to get into the details. You know, I think I was just (me) trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me. … It had no effect on the outcome of the match. I think we both went after the umpire for different reasons—or the same reasons in different moments.”

See a variety of Week 2 photos below.

Published in Snapshot

As play ended late Sunday night, March 11, it was fair to say that the first week of this year’s BNP Paribas Open delivered more than its share of upsets and surprises at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

More than half of the Top 30 seeded Women’s Tennis Association players went down to defeat, including Johanna Konta (No. 11), Garbine Muguruza (No. 3), Petra Kvitova (No. 9), Jelena Ostapenko (No. 6) and the ever-popular Americans Madison Keys (No. 15) and CoCo Vandeweghe (No. 17). Also, unranked but perennial fan favorites Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenko fell victim to a group of young and talented players determined to make their presence felt at this year’s tennis carnival.

On the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals side, the carnage was less widespread, but a number of highly seeded victims, including Grigor Dimitrov (No. 3), Alexander Zverev (No. 4), Lucas Pouille (No. 9), Novak Djokovic (No. 10) and American John Isner (No. 15), will not move on to the round of 32, which began Monday, March 12.

In the midst of this statistical turmoil, some intriguing personal moments unfolded on the Stadium Court 1. On Saturday night, the seemingly immortal men’s No. 1 player, Roger Federer, was getting into tournament shape. Playing his first singles match of this tournament against Argentinian Federico Delbonis, Federer took the first set 6-3 and was tied early in the second set—when the skies gave way to a rainy downpour, the likes of which Indian Wells rarely sees. The match was delayed for several hours before finally being postponed to Sunday for its completion.

“It's been a long time since I have been interrupted at night and have to come back the next day,” Federer said to reporters after he claimed his initial victory with a 7-6 second-set victory, sparing him a lengthy contest on the second of what became three consecutive days of play.

The inconvenience did not color his continuing attraction to our valley tour stop. “They are very knowledgeable about tennis,” he said about the tens of thousands of fans who come out each year. “It's nice that the tournament has invested a lot so they can have an even better experience here at the tennis.”

Just prior to Federer’s eventual Sunday win, five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic took on his first match challenge against the 109th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan. While walking onstage during his introduction to the packed stadium, Djokovic exhibited an air of detachment as he smiled slightly, waved his hand and lifted his chin, looking to the sky and soaking up the gladiatorial atmosphere he’s been missing due to various recent injuries and illnesses. “I was grateful to be out on the court after surgery that quickly,” he said in his post match interview, “but at the same time, (I) just didn't feel good at all.” His spotty, overall lackluster play highlighted that reality. After losing a tight first set in a surprisingly one-sided tiebreaker (7-3 for Daniel), he seemed to find his passion and stormed through the later part of the second set, taking it 6-4 to square the match. Then came a complete collapse in the third set as the upstart Daniel capitalized for a 6-1 runaway win.

“Well, it’s life, you know,” Djokovic philosophized later. “God always challenges you when you expect it least. I have experienced many times similar situations, so I know that there is always something good in it. You just need to try to set your mind at that frequency.”

The true “feel good” story of the week belonged to 16-year-old American player Amanda Anisimova, who got into the tournament via a sponsor wild-card exemption. On Sunday, in she faced ninth-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. The young New Jersey native was absolutely on fire as she overwhelmed her more accomplished opponent, 6-2, 6-4.

“Yeah, it feels crazy. I mean, I’m still in shock,” Anisimova gushed in the post-match press conference. “She (Kvitova) is the best player I have ever played, and it was the biggest court I have ever played on. So it was definitely nerve-wracking, kind of, but I was enjoying it so much out there and I was playing my best. It was a good day.”

As Week 2 play gets underway, a huge highlight comes Monday night—in fact, it’s happening as of this posting. The No. 8 seed Venus Williams is facing her uncharacteristically unseeded younger sister, Serena in the third round. Serena, coming back to competition after the birth of her first child, was asked how she feels about playing her sister at such and early point in the tournament.

“She’s had such a good year last year and (is) playing fantastic tennis,” Serena observed. “But I have to play a seed regardless, sooner than later most times for the next couple of tournaments. So I have to be ready. Obviously I wish it was anybody else in the draw, literally anybody, but that’s OK. Just have to go out there and see how I am and do my best.”

Here are two predictions for Week 2: Rain will return to play havoc with the later rounds this year … and only one Williams sister will move on past tonight. (Update: Venus defeated Serena, 6-3, 6-4.)

Published in Snapshot

The competition will get serious on Wednesday, March 7, as the last-minute qualifiers to the 2018 BNP Paribas Open join the seeded players in both the men’s and women’s draws—with the goal of becoming the tourney champ, when play concludes Sunday, March 18.

Over the next two weeks, fans will flock to the beautiful Indian Wells Tennis Garden for match play. This year, the tourney’s “Full Bloom” marketing campaign is calling attention to “the world-class tennis players (who) participate in this event woven into the natural beauty of the desert landscape.”

The BNP Paribas Open has been voted the Tournament of the Year by both the women’s and men’s tours for the fourth consecutive year—and organizers are not resting on their laurels. Among the vibrant flowers and majestic palms added to the already impressive grounds, fans will be able to enjoy more concession options, including temporary desert outlets of famed eateries like Spago and high-end sushi franchise Nobu—as well as a newly added local roadshow from desert favorite Wally’s Desert Turtle, among other options.

Then there’s the amazing tennis, witnessed in an environment that brings fans closer to the players than most tournaments will allow. The field of top WTA female pros includes top 2018 performers Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber, as well as perennial favorite Serena Williams, who is returning to the tournament after taking last year off due to the birth of her first child.

On the ATP side of the draw, top pros including former tourney champions Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Marin Cilic will join upstarts like Denis Shapovalov, Dominic Thiem and Mischa Zverev to battle through the desert’s warm days and long nights.

Here’s a brief gallery of snapshots from the first, free-admission days of this year’s event, which included the annual Kids’ Day event, player practice sessions and qualifying-round matches, which took place last weekend.

Published in Snapshot

The recently concluded BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has grown into one of the biggest events here in the valley; people flock from all over the planet to watch the greatest tennis players in the world ply their trade.

Along with the players and fans, members of the media also come from various places around the world—and one tournament volunteer has the job of making sure they all get what they need.

Judy Strobl of Oceanside is in charge of the press room of the BNP Paribas Open. She has been a volunteer for the tournament for 13 years. It’s no secret that any large event here in the valley is dependent on volunteers—and the BNP Paribas Open is no exception.

“We have over 1,500 volunteers who handle everything from the media, to ushering duties,” Strobl said. “It’s impossible to understate the impact these volunteers have. Without them, there is no tournament.”

Strobl is very diplomatic when asked what it’s like to deal with members of the media. When asked if they can be difficult, she replied: “They want what they want, when they want. I try to take into consideration that many of them are jet-lagged and are used to working on deadlines. We work very hard with the PR staff to try to be as accommodating as possible.”

Of course, there’s always a chance that problems will come up—such as what happened last year when a French TV crew arrived.

“They airline had misplaced their luggage,” Strobl said. “They literally only had the clothes on their backs. We set up appointments with local thrift stores so they could be properly attired. It was a mad scramble, but eventually, they were able get clothes and get it done. I don’t know how, but we got it done.”

As the tournament grows, so, too, does the workload in the media room. “We have already over 400 media members here,” Strobl said. “It will require more and more finesse, but we are ready.”

As part of the multi-million-dollar improvements made to Stadium 1, the press room just received major improvements. Everything is now state of the art, with TV screens and digital hookups throughout the press area.

“Even though the modes and methods of communication and media are changing, the media always needs to see a friendly face—and that one hopefully will continue to be mine,” Strobl said.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @skellynj.

Published in Sports

An estimated 450,000 people attend March’s BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament … so what do the other 434,000 people do when the tournament has narrowed down to action in just Stadium 1?

One possible answer: They head over to the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa for the second annual Spectrum Indian Wells Art Show, taking place Thursday, March 16, through Sunday, March 19.

Lisa Ashinoff is just one of the many artists participating in the juried contemporary arts show. The Virginia Beach, Va., resident studied art at Bard College and Florida International University. Why is she taking part in an art show so far away from home?

“My body of work is a good fit out there,” she said.

Actually, her work—paintings and drawings of cityscapes and dreamscapes—has been shown in Palm Springs before, which should come as no surprise, since she describes her work as “a mixture of modern and a midcentury modern.” She said growing up in a Norman Jaffe-designed house influenced her work, which has hints of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture as well. Ashinoff’s precise lines come from a system she has honed over the years.

She recently displayed her work at one of Spectrum Indian Wells’ sister shows in Miami, and she said she’s looking forward to having her work back in the desert.

“It allows me to show my work to get more exposure, because I have pretty large paintings,” she said. “The gallery hasn’t been able to show as many big pieces as I like, so it allows me to take (to the show) the big pieces I like.”

Ashinoff’s paintings can indeed be big—as large as 73 inches by 92 inches.

“They’re bold when they’re larger,” she said. “The color and the style of them are more effective on a larger scale. They just lend themselves to being a little larger than normal. I think it’s easier to paint a larger painting than it is to paint a smaller painting.”

The international list of galleries and artists confirmed as participants in Spectrum Indian Wells is quite impressive. For example, Renssen Art Gallery, from the Netherlands, will show works in the figurative tradition. Renssen is an avid admirer of Pablo Picasso, and adds a bit of abstraction—with vibrant and subdued colors—to his works.

Also confirmed is Canadian James Patterson, a sculptor whose work includes a piece that was commissioned by and recently installed at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning/Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Almost any type of artwork one can imagine—painting, photography, glassworks, sculptures and more—will be on display at the show. Spectrum Indian Wells is one of six annual art shows put on by the Redwood Media Group, including Artexpo New York, which is billed as the largest fine-art trade show.

Spectrum Indian Wells takes place at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, 44400 Indian Wells Lane, in Indian Wells. The opening-night preview, from 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday, March 16, is a benefit for the Desert AIDS Project; tickets are $50 in advance, or $60 at the door. One-day passes for the rest of the show are $20 in advance, or $30 at the event; three-day passes are $25 online, or $35 at the event, with discounts for students and seniors. Children 15 and younger are admitted for free. For tickets or more information, visit spectrum-indianwells.com. Below: "El Raval" by Lisa Ashinoff.

Published in Visual Arts

It is the biggest local sports event of the year, bringing thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the Coachella Valley—and the BNP Paribas Open will return to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden March 6-19.

The event is a Masters 1000 event—meaning it’s one of the nine most prestigious tourneys after the four Grand Slam events and the ATP World Tour Finals—on the men’s ATP Tour, and one of the esteemed premier tournaments on the women’s circuit. Those designations ensure that the top players in the world come—including Serena Williams, who returned in 2015 for the first time since a controversial exit in 2001. Total attendance could hit the 500,000 mark this year; only the four Grand Slam events have more visitors.

Last year, the event was again marred by controversy when then-tournament director Raymond Moore made what some considered to be disparaging remarks about female players during a press conference. Moore was forced to resign as tournament director, and in an unusual move, the tournament’s owner, billionaire tech guru Larry Ellison, last June selected Tommy Haas—an active German pro player who now lives in Los Angeles—as the new tournament director. Haas is currently getting ready to play in the Australian Open (taking place Jan. 16-29). This creates the intriguing and highly unusual possibility that Haas could play in a tournament that he’s directing come March.

“Tommy is definitely excited (about) joining the team, and it has been a nice transition to the other side of the game for him,” said Steve Birdwell, the chief operating officer of the BNP Paribas Open. “Tommy is focused on learning as much as he can. He will concentrate on strengthening existing relationships to create more meaningful interactions between players, sponsors and fans.”

There have been major renovations to the main stadium at the Tennis Garden, which first opened in 2000.

“We have upgraded concessions as well as all our luxury suites,” Birdwell said. “There are new restrooms as well. The walkways and concourse have been enclosed, freeing up over 100,000 square feet of space.”

Birdwell said that despite the worldwide appeal of the BNP Paribas Open, locals are important to the tourney organizers; in fact, locals receive discounts (along with seniors, students and military personnel), and Birdwell pointed out that admission is free on March 6 and 7, the first two days of the tournament.

While American men’s tennis has been in decline for a while, the BNP Paribas Open continues to grow—in part because it has become more of a festival-type event, with many ways to entertain tournament-goers both inside and outside of the main stadiums. Plans for a tennis museum are also in the works.

For more information on the BNP Paribas Open, visit www.bnpparibasopen.com.

Steve Kelly can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow him on Twitter @skellynj.

Published in Sports

On Saturday, March 19—after a spirited men’s semifinal match in which eventual 2016 PNB Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic defeated longtime rival Rafael Nadal—two local Coachella Valley High School students joined Jean Yves-Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas North America, on the Stadium 1 show court.

Brianda Beltran and Miguel Alvarez, winners of the inaugural BNP Paribas Annual College Scholarship Award, each received recognition for their accomplishments—both on the tennis courts playing for their Coachella Valley High School team, and in the classroom.

“We’ve been supporting this tournament since 2009,” Fillion told the Independent after the ceremony. “I myself have had the privilege to be here pretty much every year. I know it’s a wonderful tournament. You have superstars, but you get to know the people when you come eight years in a row. (At BNP Paribas), we felt, I felt, we are all part of a community. It’s one thing to say you want to be part of a community, but it’s another thing to do it. We felt this scholarship program supporting students was actually a very sincere and truthful way to do it and not to just say it.”

Each year starting this year, one male and one female senior student/tennis player will be selected from local valley high schools to receive a $15,000 scholarship to help support their college educations.

We asked Fillion if it was a rigorous selection process. “Very, very,” he replied. “When I went to the school yesterday (Coachella Valley High, in Thermal), what I told the students there was I was actually impressed and moved by many of these applications. But this being like life, you always have winners. Obviously, Brianda and Miguel happen to be excellent.

“Tennis was an important factor, and these two students are excellent tennis players who play in public schools, but it was also academic. It was maturity and leadership. When you look at what Miguel and Brianda have done beyond just being very good tennis players and (helping) the team, it’s very nice.”

Brianda said she embraced tennis with academics in mind.

“My friends told me, ‘Oh, you should join tennis, because you’re going to need this when you’re applying to college, and it looks good on your resume,’” she said. “I hadn’t done a sport in awhile, so I went to practice, and I stayed there, and I did it and did it. Eventually, it did help me, because I received the BNP Paribas scholarship. So I don’t think I could be anymore grateful.”

Miguel said he started playing tennis when he was a sophomore.

“I started because my coach, Larry Salas, who is also a counselor at my high school, mentioned the importance of academics in being at school and activities like being in clubs, extracurriculars, community service and volunteer work, too. Also … he said, ‘What sport are you planning on playing in high school?’ I honestly never considered myself an aggressive-enough person for most other sports. I considered golf and tennis. Since he was the tennis coach, he asked me to go practice one day with them—and I loved the sport. That two-hour practice on that one day was it for me.”

Both student-athletes said they don’t anticipate playing tennis seriously beyond high school—although the sport will remain part of their lives.

“Since I was introduced to the sport when I was already 15 or 16 years old, my hope is that my kids are able to start when they are little so they can be pros,” Brianda said. “I hope to play in my free time and when I come back home in the summer. Obviously, I want to help the incoming freshmen or meet up with the girls I’ve played tennis with.”

As for Miguel? “I’m really going to focus on getting the best education I can and getting the best out of school. But I will continue to play tennis recreationally. I guess if I could make the college tennis team, I wouldn’t deny that opportunity.”

How will the scholarship money impact their college aspirations? “Both my parents came here to look for a better job, so they didn’t finish college,” Brianda said. “So I really want to get my bachelor’s in psychology and minor in communications. Then I want to get my master’s, and my dad says he’d be really, really proud of me if I got my doctorate, which I’d be willing to do.”

Miguel shared a similar story.

“When my parents came to America, they always hoped for us to live the American Dream, where we would find success and where we would work hard to be somebody in this world,” he said. “Now I want to enter USC (where he’s been accepted) as a business major and attend their world-business program, where I would attend USC for two years, spend one year in Hong Kong, and a year in Milan.”

As things came to a close, Miguel had one last message: “Just for the record, I do have something I want to say. Where we live, in Coachella … it’s a little sad that in our entire city, the only courts that we have to play on are the ones at our school. I know that in other cities here in the valley, like La Quinta or Palm Desert, most of their parks have tennis courts here, there, everywhere. So if anyone really wanted to play tennis in our community, it’s very limited, considering that the only courts are at our school.”

Sounds like the young man thought of another community project worthy of the attention of PNB Paribas and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Published in Features

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