Ian Griffin in action in Rwanda.
In addition to the lessons he provides, Ian always arrives bearing gifts and donations. His friends and fellow coaches on the Varsity Blues make sure he is well stocked with tennis balls, racquets and Blues clothing for every trip. These have proven very useful, since athletic wear and equipment is extremely hard to come by over there.
As both a Varsity Blues alumnus and Varsity Blues tennis coach, Ian Griffin (1974) has an undeniable passion for the game. And for the past decade, he’s been helping to spread that love of the game overseas in Rwanda.
It was a dedication that started early in his life. While pursuing his law degree at the University of Toronto, Ian was a central figure on both the Blues tennis and Blues squash teams. Even after receiving his degree, he still couldn’t pull himself away from the sport. The moment Ian graduated, he took off to play in satellite tournaments in Kenya and the USA. Upon returning home, Ian decided to follow his heart and begin a coaching career in Toronto. He knew he wanted to return to Africa one day but the demands of his coaching schedule prevented him from making the trip. Once he retired from full-time coaching in 2012, Ian eagerly accepted an invitation from the Ministry of Sport and Culture in Rwanda to go over and teach tennis. “I was intrigued by the challenge,” said Ian. “I told one of my friends I had never heard of a single Rwandan tennis player.”
As he began to help develop the program over in Rwanda, Ian realized he was facing an uphill battle. “The majority of the students hadn’t even heard of tennis,” he said. That didn’t deter him. Ahead of his second trip to Rwanda, Ian connected with the Right to Play organization, which uses sport to empower children with the skills they need to drive change in their lives and their communities. He began teaching at one of Rwanda’s biggest public schools, but found that most students still had no idea what tennis was all about. “Their enthusiasm was fabulous,” he said, “but they only knew about football.”
That has slowly changed over time. Year after year, Ian is amazed at the increasing passion and dedication of his students. He is confident that a group of them will now be eligible for athletic scholarships to the USA. “I can see the way that I’ve been able to improve their lives and I’ve sure loved it,” he says.
In addition to the lessons he provides, Ian always arrives bearing gifts and donations. His friends and fellow coaches on the Varsity Blues make sure he is well stocked with tennis balls, racquets and Blues clothing for every trip. These have proven very useful, since athletic wear and equipment is extremely hard to come by over there. “The kids would initially show up for lessons in button down shirts,” he said.
Thanks to technology, Ian doesn’t have to wait until his next trip, this coming November, to catch up with his students and provide the mentorship they seek. He is able to stay in regular contact with many of his older students through email. “It’s been a real treat to see how motivated they are,” he says. “It’s what keeps me going.”