Creating the Aviators Experience Beyond the Tennis Court
Five standout ATP and WTA professional tennis players. A three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion and 2016 World TeamTennis Champion coach. This is the foundation of a powerful, dynamic Aviators team. But there are so many more teams involved that create our Tennis Amplified experience. From volunteers and ambassadors to our ball kids, and the on-court dynamic duo of DJ Danny and announcer Joe Cipriano to our live-streaming master, Benny Ricardo, the Aviators team extends far beyond the players’ bench.
The Aviators volunteers are a crucial factor in guest experience from the moment fans enter the gate. Organized and run by Jay Diaz, who’s worked with the Aviators all five years of the team’s existence, the volunteers greet and guide our fans to their seats, maintain the VIP and player lounge areas, help with crowd flow, and also provide assistance to spectators with special needs or disabilities. The team of roughly 11 to 14 volunteers per match is composed of both adult volunteers and students from Steele Canyon High School and Helix Charter High School, where Diaz is the head tennis coach. Their willingness to work as volunteers means that for most of them, they’re not only there for the Aviators fans, but they’re also there as Aviators fans themselves. Diaz has a personal interest that goes beyond ensuring his volunteer team does a great job at matches: he actually gave hitting the pro circuit a shot in the 1970s and was even a hopeful for the former San Diego WTT team, the San Diego Friars (’75-’78). Needless to say, he’s a huge fan of the WTT format. “I’ve seen it grow and improve. People might think they can just stay home and watch tennis on TV, but they don’t know what they’re missing until they come and see it live,” he says.
They’re always quick, always ready, and they sometimes steal the show. The 12 boys and girls who make up the Aviators’ ball kids squad are trained to be lightning fast on the court, getting balls to players and grabbing strays before they interfere with the pace of the match. “I tell them, ‘Every time you see a ball on the court, you better run after it like it was $100,’ and they just charge after the ball,” says Debbie Ouye, who trains and manages the team. To prepare for the WTT season, the volunteer ball kids practice months in advance at the Bay Club Carmel Valley, where Ouye is a tennis pro, which means parent support is a must. “We have really good, supportive parents and they love it when their kids participate in something like this because it’s not like they’re playing tennis but they’re getting the benefits of being exposed to tennis and they’re still having fun doing it,” she says. “I was a ball girl, my son was a ball boy, and we still to this day think that was one of the most exciting experiences that we’ve ever had in tennis. You’re on the court with the pros. You’re handing them the ball; you’re handing them a towel; they’re talking to you. You can’t miss anything like this. It’s so exciting, and they love it.”
Connor Zielinski, 13, who was an Aviators ball kid during the 2017 season, couldn’t agree more. “I like being a ball kid because it teaches you two things — you have to be mature and learn how to get the players what they want, and also interacting with the players is really cool,” he says.
A new addition to the Aviators team this year, the Ambassadors program enlists local high school and college students throughout San Diego to flex their social media and networking muscle to promote the Aviators. The ten-week program activates eleven students from eight schools to create exciting social campaigns, contests, giveaways, and events in their network to spread the word and generate buzz about the upcoming season. Armed with juicy swag bags and social media savvy, these ambassadors are an exciting addition to the Aviators team.
On Court Announcer Joe Cipriano, DJ Danny, and Live Stream Announcer Benny Ricardo
Aviators fans may recognize the velvety tone of our announcer, Joe Cipriano, since he’s been the voice of the team year after year. But, he may also sound familiar because he is one of the biggest voice talents in broadcasting. Name a hit show, television network, or even radio show, and you’re guaranteed to have heard his signature sound on and behind the camera, in promos, and on the air. The Aviators are fortunate to have this veteran talent on court who seamlessly keeps up with the fast pace of World TeamTennis without missing a beat, and his chemistry with the team and his courtside partner, DJ Danny Castillo, adds to the lively atmosphere of every Aviators match. “When we met, we just clicked. He’s so awesome,” says Castillo of Cipriano. “Working with Joe makes it so easy. You’ve got the music playing and then when you’ve got Joe hyping it up it’s so easy and so much fun; [it’s] the best experience I’ve ever had working with somebody.” Their energy is contagious for the fans. “The Aviators crowd is great. I think because we have such a beautiful venue and we have different kinds of fans — some people who are fans of tennis and some people who are new to this experience — it’s such a lively experience, totally different than any other tennis tournament. Having our fans as loud as can be is very intimidating for the other teams coming in here,” says Castillo.
When people can’t make it to the match, we’re fortunate to have the talented Benny Ricardo on-site to livestream all the action. The former place kicker for the San Diego Chargers and SDSU alumna brings a signature quick-witted, rapid-fire style to the broadcast. A local San Diegan, though not a native – the multilingual Ricardo was born in Paraguay — he is also a comedian and color commentator for the NFL on CBS.
Opening night is still over a month away, but this team is ready to create a memorable 2018 season for every fan who joins us this summer to cheer the Aviators to another championship!
See you on the beautiful multi-colored center court at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa soon! First match is July 15.