New Executive Director Song Thao was a SPUT coach years ago!
He started as a St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) kid learning to hit balls on the Harding High School tennis courts. From there, Song Thao became a SPUT coach, teaching tennis and life skills to kids on courts throughout St. Paul. Now he has a new title in the organization: Executive Director.
Thao will take the reins of the 26-year old youth development nonprofit located at Eastview Rec Center -- not far from where he grew up on the east side of St. Paul-- in early April. Though SPUT offices are located at Eastview, the organization has a city-wide reach. In the summer, hundreds of 5-18 year olds are given age appropriate tennis and life skills lessons on courts nearest their homes. High school students may apply to coach or join the Warrior Leadership Academy, which offers leadership opportunities and career exploration, as well as a high-level tennis training program.
Thao said of his own coaching experience: “I learned that I needed to demonstrate the values I was teaching the kids in the program. Kids are incredibly honest and when you don’t do what you ask kids to do, they’ll call you out,” he said. “Teaching SPUT values every summer made me think more about how I’m demonstrating them in my own life, especially how I conducted myself around others.”
A former education and outreach program director for InnerCity Tennis in Minneapolis and most recently training manager for the Hmong American Partnership, Thao brings extensive experience in youth development, program development and implementation. One of his responsibilities at ICT was to set the direction of the Tennis in the Parks program at 24 Minneapolis parks with more than 1,000 participants and 50 coaches over five weeks.
Thao is a graduate of Harding High School, a 2008 graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College (where he played Division 3 tennis) and has his MFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
“I imagine SPUT as a community where we develop people, players, coaches and leaders. I would like to align tennis and education in all of those areas,” he said.
Emily Blodgett, SPUT board and search committee chair said Thao has the “perfect combination of experience, a passion for kids and their growth through the sport, and commitment to SPUT’s vision of becoming one of St. Paul’s premier youth development organizations.” Plus, she said, “If we want to embrace SPUT’s tagline of Launching Leaders, who better to lead us than a leader that SPUT has launched?”
St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) uses tennis to teach leadership and life skills to more than 2,000 youth each year in neighborhoods throughout St. Paul. Up to 60 high schools students participate in SPUT’s Warrior Leadership Academy. SPUT moved its headquarters to Eastview Rec Center in Spring 2017 to expand programming for families on St. Paul’s east side. Former director Becky Cantellano recently left SPUT to become executive director of the Northern Division of the US Tennis Association (USTA).
The success of any non-profit organization is largely due to the strength and ongoing support of it's leadership. SPUT is no exception to this rule. We are fortunate to have a dedicated volunteer board that invests time, talent and resources to making SPUT successful. Members include:
Becky came to SPUT in January of 2012 after nearly ten years working for USTA Northern, most recently as Director of Tennis Programs & Services, where she managed a team of USTA Program Directors and community tennis initiatives. Prior to that, she taught tennis in both a public park and country club setting while playing tennis for the Mounds View Mustangs and UW-LaCrosse Eagles. She has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education and Spanish, a mini MBA in Nonprofit Management from the University of St. Thomas, and is a certified PTR Teaching Professional. She currently resides in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of Saint Paul with her husband, Aldo, and kids Ela and Javier.
Laura joined the SPUT team in December of 2015 after managing student services, programs, events and marketing communications as a Student Affairs Dean at the diverse Minneapolis Community and Technical College. A Des Moines, Iowa native, she played tennis for Hoover High School and attended the University of Iowa—a proud Hawkeye. She spent her early summers teaching tennis to youth and adults and managing a city park site for the Des Moines Tennis Association. She also taught youth tennis for the University of Iowa’s Upward Bound Program and played on a USTA Women’s Team Tennis team for several years in Waterloo, Iowa. Before moving to Minnesota, Laura promoted the achievements of K-12 students at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland as Director of Public Affairs. Laura lives with her husband, Bill, and teenage son, Andrew, in Burnsville.
Brandon Kuether is a Program Manager at Saint Paul Urban Tennis, where he focuses on Player and Coach Development. He is graduating in 2018 from Hamline University with a degree in Sociology and Elementary Education. His tennis journey began when he fell in love with the sport in middle school and continued to progress as he achieved the title of captain of his high school team at Columbia Heights High School as well as his collegiate team at Hamline University. Brandon first joined the SPUT team back in the summer of 2014 when he received the Rookie Coach of the Year award and has since had his role in the organization increase as a Programming Intern, Youth Competition Coordinator, and now Program Manager. Brandon lists his ultimate goal as giving back to the sport and community that have given him absolute joy.
Josh comes into St. Paul Urban Tennis from a background in teaching, having taught in St. Paul for 3 years and studied Social Studies Education at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. Since discovering tennis at age 13, Josh has been enamored with the sport. Having attended Tennis and Life Camps in high school, he learned the strong connection tennis has with important life skills. He would go on to state in doubles, become president of the club tennis team at Gustavus, and a tennis instructor at Tennis and Life Camps. Josh joined SPUT as a head coach in 2015 and fell in love with the values of SPUT SPIRIT as well as using tennis as a venue to positively impact people’s lives. Since then has continued to grow his role in the organization as operations coordinator and now program manager of outreach and education. Josh is excited to bring together his experience in education, love of tennis, and commitment to the St. Paul community.
SPUT programs are lead by a mix of teachers, certified tennis teaching professionals, and high school/college students (age 16-25). We intentionally recruit, train and support over 70 student workers to coach with us in the summer months. Our team of trainers and program coordinators that supervise youth workers and manage programs include:
Tom Boulay, Leadership Program Manager
Saint Paul Urban Tennis is excited to announce the creation of the 2017-2018 Youth Council! The council is made up of one representative from each Saint Paul Public School, and two representatives from Non-Saint Paul Public Schools. The purpose of this group is to directly engage the youth of our community in the process of planning in order to have our program better serve the kids. Program Manager Brandon Kuether describes the first meeting as "a truly amazing experience. There is nothing more incredible than seeing passionate young minds at work. It brings me a lot of joy seeing the commitment to community that this young group shares."
We are still looking for a representative from Humboldt High School. Please email Brandon@urbantennis.org if you are interested!
Below is the list of representatives
Highland Park Senior High School: Maixee Lee
Central Senior High School: Simon Grow-Hanson
Como Park Senior High School: Gabe Reynolds
Johnson Senior High School: Allan Her
Harding High Senior School: Amanye Reynolds
Washington Technology Magnet School: Dyhana Larson
Tsering Nima (Columbia Heights Senior High School)
Surena Vu (Roseville High School)