Cascades Tennis at Aspen Meadows launches scholarship fund for kids

Nonprofit officially starts programming on Monday

Liam Sunkel, left, and Christian Kelly, seen on Friday, June 3, 2022, lead the junior tennis program for Cascades Tennis at Aspen Meadows, which is launching a new scholarship program for kids.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Liam Sunkel moved to Aspen in middle school and did everything he could to get involved with the local tennis community, something easier said than done. Much like skiing, tennis can be an expensive and even daunting sport to dive into, and Sunkel is now part of a group looking to help with this.

Along with Aspen native Christian Kelly — who like Sunkel only graduated from high school in 2021 — Sunkel is a manager for the junior program through Cascades Tennis, which operates the tennis facilities at Aspen Meadows Resort. New this year is a scholarship program that seeks to get the youth of the Roaring Fork Valley into the sport as cheaply and as easily as possible.

The scholarship is funded by a combination of local businesses and local individual donors.

“There are not that many opportunities to play here. What there is is usually pretty expensive and is not accessible,” said Sunkel, who currently attends Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “I remember when I was younger, when I was like 13 or 14 or 15, I was trying to play here and take a lot of lessons and it was really expensive, just from the people I could find. So I think it’s really nice that I can go back and give back to these kids that are in the shoes I was in and make it easier for them to come here and play.”

The Cascades Tennis Junior Scholarship Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that looks to find kids ages 7 to 18 who are in need of financial assistance and want to learn the game or further develop their tennis skills by providing free court access, equipment and training at Aspen Meadows.

It’s part of an entire overhaul of the resort’s tennis program, with Cascades Tennis having taken over in 2018 on a temporary basis. They were awarded a long-term contract to run the resort’s facility within the last year or so and have even opened a new pro shop this summer.

The youth scholarship fund is the latest step in the tennis program’s expansion.

“For me being born here, every single person who is in the tennis community I’ve been coached by or been influenced by. This is a good way to give back to everyone,” said Kelly, who attends Colorado College. “They can come here with no tennis experience, have rackets, have balls, have coaches, and learn how to play tennis from the ground up.”

Both Kelly and Sunkel played for the Aspen High School varsity boys tennis team, with Kelly having been the team’s No. 1 singles player by the end of his AHS career. Kelly’s younger brother, Chase, is currently a standout for the Skiers, when not actually skiing.

The local high school tennis teams, which now includes Basalt High School’s still-young programs, provide a relatively cheap outlet to learn tennis here in the valley, but both Kelly and Sunkel highlighted how limited that can be, confined to only a certain time of the year and a few hours after school during the season.

The hope is that a program like the one now at Aspen Meadows will help fill in the gaps for those who want to play during the summer but maybe can’t afford the memberships associated with some of the larger clubs in the area.

Kelly and Sunkel have both attended tennis academies in the past, and Sunkel is even hoping to walk on to the men’s team at SMU this coming season. The programming being offered at Aspen Meadows includes training suggested by the sport’s national governing body, as well as from Kelly’s and Sunkel’s personal experience on the court.

“Being able to coach tennis is really great for me because I get to pass on my knowledge, which is something I really love to do with these kids because I like to see them succeed,” Sunkel said. “But it also benefits me because I get to stay involved with tennis.”

Cascades Tennis is inviting everyone from up and down the valley to apply for the scholarships. The program officially kicks off Monday, June 13. More info can be found at Interested participants can also call the pro shop at 855-744-1994.

“We are all excited about it and looking forward to really getting this thing going. I think it will be great for so many constituents,” said David Elgart, who is on the scholarship fund’s board of directors. “People in the community are going to feel good about supporting a program like this because there just aren’t too many of them.”