This week in the Washington Blade Game Changers series, we meet an athlete with Capital Tennis Association who has taken the club to new heights regarding social responsibility.
Growing up in Smithfield, Va., Shawn Stingel discovered tennis by playing in the streets with his brother and friends. Inspired by Venus and Serena Williams, he tried out for his high school tennis team in Windsor, Va., and made the cut playing all four years.
Stingel only played recreationally while attending William & Mary but after graduating and arriving in Washington in 2005, he was eager to rejoin the sport with the Capital Tennis Association.
“I was looking to anchor myself in D.C. and discovering an LGBT-based team was a really comfortable feeling,” Stingel says. “I have met my best friends on the tennis court and being an out athlete has been part of my evolution as an adult. I wasn’t out when I was playing in high school.”
As Stingel became a better tennis player with the Association, he started becoming more involved in a leadership role. When he stepped into the role of social director for the club, he began looking for more diversity and recruitment of young athletes.
“We ramped up our social media, started attending mixers and increased our presence in the community,” Stingel says. “From my own perspective, I could see where I would have fit into all of that as a young adult as I wasn’t seen in high school. Young adults today want to be out and they want to play sports. They should be given spaces where they can be comfortable.”
Already active in LGBT community events, Stingel pushed for the Association to expand its social impact and branch into other communities.
“My agenda was to transcend the tennis court and also have a presence in heteronormative communities,” Stingel says. “I wanted to break down that barrier and allow diversity to thrive.”
Partnering with local organizations, Stingel created events surrounding Breast Cancer Awareness Month, organized CPR training for American Heart Month and helped coordinate the club’s Earth Day invitational while engaging local eco-friendly organizations to raise awareness for their efforts.
“Being progressive in our outreach lets our members know we are more than an LGBT tennis club,” Stingel says. “Creating awareness campaigns gives people exposure to these topics and starts a conversation that will affect change.”
As for his tennis career, Stingel was a doubles specialist for seven years with his playing partner Horatio Oliveira before segueing into a singles career.
Stingel, who works in IT at the Office of Air & Radiation for the Environmental Protection Agency, plays in leagues with the Capital Tennis Association and travels the country competing in tournaments on the Gay Lesbian Tennis Alliance World Tour.
He says his career highlight thus far was qualifying for the GLTA World Tour year-end championships in Prague in 2016. This weekend he will be playing in the Citrus Classic tournament in Tampa.
“I love the challenge and the competition. It brings me joy. We play at a lot of venues where I see older people still competing, so I don’t see myself stopping any time soon,” Stingel says. “It feels good to stay active, give back and make an impact.”