The Story of Mitchelle Lake and The Anguilla Tennis Academy (ATA)
In the first part of the inspirational story of Mitchelle “Mitch” Lake, we followed Mitch’s journey from when he first started playing tennis at eleven years old to when he started the Anguilla Tennis Academy (ATA) on the Ronald Webster Park with 35 children which grew to 150 students by the third year of its existence.
Mitch promised to build a tennis facility for the children attending the Academy. Still in his early twenties, he was intent on turning that promise into reality. He knew he needed a plan, land, and money.
Mitch relied on a powerful and moving story, enterprise, intuition, his persuasive skills, and the power of relationships to help him achieve all three goals.
A Plan, Land and Money for the Anguilla Tennis Academy
Mitch approached Mr. Myron Goldfinger, renowned architect and developer of Altamer and Covecastles for a plan for the tennis academy.
Mitch’s pitch to him went like this,
“Mr. Goldfinger, you have been investing in Anguilla for 25 years. You developed our coastline and you turned it into gold using the tip of your finger.’
Mr. Goldfinger, an architect, found that statement intriguing. Mitch continued, ‘I would like you to give back to Anguilla. I want you to design a world class tennis academy.
Mr. Goldfinger asked, ‘Why world class?’ Mitch replied, “Because we have world class children.” He said, “OK, get me a sketch.”
Mitch got his roommate, Steve Beggs in the United States at the time, who had artistic drawing skills to outline a plan. Mr. Goldfinger’s signature style is circles, so he took a facility designed in squares and turned them into circles. On completion, he turned over US$300,000.00 worth of drawings and renderings to Mitch.
Mitch approached the Government of Anguilla and shared that he raised US$300,000.00 dollars in drawings and renderings. He asked the Government to put up land for the development of the tennis academy. They thought he was crazy. Mr. Goldfinger flew in to help Mitch make his case. The Government gave him six (6) acres of land to develop the facility on a 99-year lease. This was a US$300,000.00 value in land from the Government as well.
Mitch then went to Covecastles and told the guests and owners of the villas he had raised US$600,000.00. He approached Joe and Carol Rich, owners he knew at Covecastles first. He asked them for US$25,000.00 cash and the use of their names. They were so impressed by Mitch’s tenacity and vision for the children of Anguilla that they gave him the US$25,000.00 dollars requested.
He needed permission to use their names as his plan was to approach the owners of the other villas at Covecastles and ask them to match. Amazingly, Mitch raised US$125,000.00 to start the Anguilla Tennis Academy from other six villas at Covecastles.
A Relationship with his Father Fostered Through the Building of the Anguilla Tennis Academy
Mitchelle and his father, the late Calvin Lake never saw eye to eye on tennis. His father saw no value in playing tennis. He thought that Mitch should follow in his footsteps and become a jack of all trades. Mitch did not like construction work or the feel of cement on his hands and would constantly wash his hands. This led to his hands getting soft and peeling and turning to blisters and him being unable to hold the tennis racquet. Because of this, he argued about going to the construction sites and the relationship with his father became antagonistic. His father would say, ‘If you don’t do what I say, you don’t live at my house.”
Mitch’s father supported his children but never showed up in person for any of Mitch’s personal achievements. However, this all changed when Mitch showed his father the plans and renderings for the Anguilla Tennis Academy. For the first time in Mitch’s life, his father closed his store and showed up and took a front seat at the launch for the plans for the Anguilla Tennis Academy held at Paradise Cove.
A Turning Point
It was a turning point for Mitch in the development of the Tennis Academy. This was the beginning of a special bond between Mitch and his father. They would talk for hours every night. When Mitch would worry or wanted to give up, his father would say remember the words of Bob Marley ‘Every little thing is gonna be alright.’ Mitch would keep saying this when he hit a snag during the building of the ATA and somehow the problem would be resolved.
Mitch’s father the late Calvin Washington Lake passed before the building was done but he put in place persons to help Mitch along the journey. These included Jeff Richardson who was the contractor and Hugo Rey, Project Manager who mentored Mitch along the way.
Just before Mitch’s father passed, he said these prophetic words, ‘I saw it. It is done. It is so pure that people will come from diverse places to help you. You will not know them, but they will know you.’
He was right. People heard Mitch’s story and wanted to meet the man with this vision and story. Donations began to pour in from all over the world.
When the Anguilla Tennis Academy opened in 2007, Mitch put an empty chair for his father to signify his presence at the ceremony. Before his passing, he told Mitch, ‘It is finished.’ Mitch could feel his presence and knew he was smiling.
Today, people are still showing up and donating to the ATA in significant ways. Eighteen (18) years later, his dad’s words still ring true, and his prophesy continues to be fulfilled.
“All my life, I was seeking my dad’s approval. When he showed up for the launching for the Anguilla Tennis Academy I knew it was a special project that would become a win-win situation. While I was fulfilling a promise to the children to build a world class facility for them, I was getting a relationship with my father. Ironically, this was through the same sport that almost divided us. That motivated me to put so much into it because it intertwined with building and construction which he was great at, and I was able to get his knowledge in the process. While the children were getting a facility, I was getting a relationship with my father – a win-win situation for everyone involved.
One Man’s Dream became a Shared Vision – The Cause was greater than the Cost
The story of the Anguilla Tennis Academy spread rapidly, and people began to buy into Mitch’s vision. The dream and the vision were so powerful that people wanted to be a part of something pure. This allowed for the creation of the Anguilla Tennis Academy. Donations came from local, regional, and international donors to build the Anguilla Tennis Academy.
Over five thousand (5,000) children have passed through the Anguilla Tennis Academy – local, regional, and international. Since its inception, thirteen (13) children have been awarded tennis athletic scholarships to Top Division 2 Universities across the USA. These students have received numerous awards and excelled in both the classroom and on the tennis court. An average tennis scholarship amounted to US$100,000.00 over a four-year period. To date, Anguillian families have saved more than 1.2 million dollars. There have also been numerous trickle-down economic benefits from tennis events held over the years.
International students are coming in to experience what we do in Anguilla, international coaches, professionals on the ATP tour perform exhibitions at the ATA, television producers and song writers produce songs and promos about the ATA to create more awareness, and journalists from popular magazines have documented Mitch’s tennis journey.
From a Social Standpoint
From a social standpoint, the tennis academy has done wonders for children and serves as a vehicle to develop well-rounded children who continue to uplift Anguilla. Children who grew up in Anguilla and started at the James Ronald Webster Park were given a world class facility, the best of its kind in the English, Spanish and French speaking Caribbean. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has chosen the ATA to host level 2 and 3 tournaments because it meets all international standards.
Through the ATA, Anguillian children have attended the US Open in Queens, NY and the Rogers Cup in Toronto. ATA students received behind the scenes access and were able to meet, embrace and converse with top players on both the ATP and WTA tour. These are opportunities afforded because of the expansive reach the ATA has both regionally and internationally.
The ATA also gives back in other ways. One such example is that Mitch and his wife, Keesha Fleming Lake received donations and packed a twenty-foot Tropical Shipping container with nonperishables and food for ATA families after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
When Mitch reflects, he knows that the cause was greater than a cost.
Mitch shared, “If the cost is greater than the cause it is your ego. However, if the cause is greater than the cost, it is something that must be done to better humanity.”
The Anguilla Tennis Academy has no doubt made an indelible mark not just on the Anguillian community but internationally as well.
Mitch Shares Lessons Learned on the Journey
“In life, what you put in is what you get out.”
I did not know what to expect. All I had was a belief and a will. I had to build a coalition of the willing to help me to fulfil what I thought was necessary for the children of Anguilla.
“Never give up”
Along the way, anything worth having is going to present challenges. If you honestly believe in what you want to do, do not allow obstacles to make you quit. The easiest thing you can do is quit. Mitch always remembered the voices of the children saying we cannot wait for next year or this summer is the best experience I ever had. He realized that quitting would be selfish, and lives would be negatively impacted by the persons depending on the ATA as an outlet.
“You have to think about the Impact of what you are doing and the impact on others and that should be the motivation to press on despite the challenges and obstacles in your way.”
What you put in; you will get out.
I was not paid to do any of this, but it became a passion. The song “Something Inside so Strong” motivated me and I played it daily for inspiration and motivation. The academy became the blood that flowed through my veins. If you really believe in something and you work hard, you can really achieve it. Your will power becomes so great that you become determined to find a way.
The Importance of Networking
Networking is the greatest skill anyone can have. Mitch powerfully and strategically used the medium of the hotel to connect with people across the world.
“People love two things’ children (regardless of culture and colour) and they love stories. If people love your story, they will buy into your story. As your network grows your rolodex becomes so huge that there are so many resources available to you. It makes what you do easier because so many persons with extraordinary expertise are within reach.“
Once something is built to a certain level and the foundation is strong, it will stand. It will be difficult to undermine.
The foundation of the ATA was not just pure, it was strong. No one knows all the players involved as they are not just locals. That aspect gave the ATA a sense of immunity that Mitch was able to use to his advantage to grow, promote and make the ATA what it is today.
He reflected, “My hope is that young persons will look at me and say if Mitch can conceive an idea and bring it to fruition, I too can conceive an idea and bring it to fruition. Failure was not an option. If I succeed, others will succeed. If I build, others will build. “
Final Words from Mitchelle Lake, Founder of the Anguilla Tennis Academy – We Must Give Credit to our Own
One of the things we fail to do in Anguilla is recognize and give credit to our own. The Anguilla Tennis Academy should be recognized as a symbol of national pride and an institution that must be preserved for generations to come. The people of Anguilla and Governments present, and future must protect the ATA and ensure that the opportunities that the past students have been afforded will also be afforded for future generations.
Not only was the Anguilla Tennis Academy developed by a son of the soil, but it is the only academy in the world which gives its name, not to its Founder but to its country.
I was merely a catalyst in this journey to give the children of Anguilla something they deserved. The responsibility of the people of Anguilla is to ensure that this gift, which was created by an Anguillian, for Anguillians is preserved for future generations. Because it is the Anguilla Tennis Academy, that responsibility must be borne mainly by Anguilla and all Anguillians.
From the Author’s Vantage Point
Listening to and authoring this story I am in awe of what Mitchell Lake was able to accomplish. Not only does Anguilla have a world-class tennis academy, the only of its kind and at its level in the English, French and Spanish Caribbean, it also has stood the test of time and made significant contributions socially and economically.
The Anguilla Tennis Academy which carries our country’s name is a symbol of national pride. I feel proud every time I drive by. There is no doubt that Mitchell Lake has created something sustainable and world class for the children of Anguilla.
Now, we must take collective ownership of the Anguilla Tennis Academy so that this institution and the services it offers are protected and prioritized. There are so few beautiful spaces created for our children and the ATA must be maintained for future generations.
The Anguilla Tennis Academy has garnered numerous awards and accolades over the years and proven itself committed to Anguilla’s children, the provision of employment opportunities and the general development of Anguilla and young Anguillians.
Collectively, we must play our part to ensure that tennis opportunities on island that will enable the Anguilla Tennis Academy to obtain revenue and continue to grow, build, and offer affordable programmes and scholarships to Anguillians regardless of socioeconomic status are awarded and prioritized. This is one way we can play our part to ensure that the ATA not only survives but continues to thrive.
I am grateful that my children can play tennis at a World Class facility, and I can only hope that they will turn out to be better players than I was.