The legacy of tennis icon Althea Gibson lives on among talented young players.
A group of 10 youngsters were chosen from a pool of more than 2,800 entrants after being asked to pen an essay about how lessons learned on the tennis court can help development and character off it.
The Arthur Ashe Essay Contest was open to students 18 and younger who participate in National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) programs across the country.
This year’s essay contest focused on tennis legend and pioneer Althea Gibson and her ability to show unwavering strength and courage in the face of adversity. That enabled her to become a trailblazer in the tennis world as the first African-American Grand Slam and U.S. Championships winner. This year’s question asked: “How have your skills in tennis impacted the development of your character and how you address your personal challenges on and off the court?”
The winners will be honored at the Yale Club in New York City and invited to Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, where they’ll receive the VIP status in the President’s Box.
The weekend will wrap up with an awards luncheon on Sunday, Aug. 28, hosted by USTA Foundation chairman and former world No. 4 James Blake and former New York City mayor and USTA board member David Dinkins. The luncheon will be held at the Yale Club, where the essay contest winners will receive an honorary plaque.
This marks the 18th annual contest hosted by the USTA Foundation, the national charitable organization of the United States Tennis Association.
"This year’s Arthur Ashe Essay contest winners consist of a talented group of students from some of our most outstanding NJTL programs,” said Dan Faber, USTA Foundation executive director. “We expanded the focus of our essay question and challenged the students to reflect on the great achievements of Althea Gibson. This year’s responses were some of the most phenomenal ones we’ve read as they truly highlighted their individual experiences and personal strengths as a result of the positive impact tennis has had on their lives. We are proud of their hard work.”
In January 2014, the USTA Foundation combined with USTA NJTL, a national network of 500 community-based tennis and education programs serving more than 225,000 youth, to become a fully operational foundation. NJTL has impacted millions of kids throughout the country over the past 47years, making it the largest grass-roots tennis program in the United States.
The 10 winners of the 2016 NJTL Arthur Ashe Essay Contest were selected in the following categories:
Boys/Girls 10 and under
Emeric Sery, 10, Washington, D.C. (Washington Tennis and Education Foundation)
Wiltchenie Cadet, 10, Lake Worth, Fla. (Delray Beach Youth Tennis Foundation)
Edderek Cole, 11, Jackson, Miss. (Jackson Community Tennis Project)
Ashley Marin Factor, 11, Portland, Ore. (Portland Tennis and Education)
Miles Ponds, 13, Washington, D.C. (Metropolitan Tennis and Education Group)
Sophia Schutte, 14, Thomaston, N.Y. (New York Junior Tennis and Learning)
Mukasa Ricketts, 16, Dallas (Dallas Tennis Association)
Catherine Thomas, 16, Houston (Houston Tennis Association)
Charles Taylor, 17, Park City, Kan. (McAdams Community Tennis Foundation)
Chloe Henderson, 18, Las Vegas (Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation)
The U.S. Open is almost upon us and the tennis world is lit with the expectations of fans as they anticipate the celebrated antics of renowned tennis players from all over the globe who will once again converge beginning August 29, to battle for courts and glory.
The sport of tennis has always been revered for its durability and the infectious spirit of players turned champions who stun the world with their tenacity and grand appeal, which in turn has led to a surge in interest amongst the younger set who dream of one day matching or surpassing the heightened success of the likes of Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal to name a few.
There is also one of the most iconic talents ever to dominate a sport that admitted only a very lucky few who were too exceptional not to qualify for greatness. The late Arthur Ashe was ahead of his time as a hero of the tennis world, as he served his way into the courts of greatness with a rack of achievements including, winning three Grand Slam titles and claiming the undisputed honor of being the only Black man to ever win the singles title at Wimbledon and the US Open -- a feat that has yet to be matched.
Ashe announced to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus in April 1992. The infection happened while he was receiving a blood transfusion following heart bypass surgery. The esteemed athlete passed away in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.
Two decades later, Ashe's legacy remains active, thanks to the immense efforts of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) under the effective leadership of Chairman and CEO, Katrina Adams who took the time to explain the cultural relevance of the annual Arthur Ashe Kids' Day that was instituted back in 1997 as part of the ceremonious bequeathment of what is now known as the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Now, in 2016, Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, (AAKD) presented by Hess, has evolved into a full-fledged day of celebration for the man who's accomplishments has become a breeding ground for future stars who may otherwise not have the opportunity to have their talents nurtured accordingly.
Adams is adamant about the mission of Arthur Ashe Kids' Day. She highlights the itinerary of what was configured as the outlet for kids who are eager for the opportunity to enjoy the sport while also paying homage to the man who invigorated the genre that he mastered, despite the racial implications. She also takes pride in the fact that an impressive selection of eager-minded youth with their parents in tow travel from all corners of the nation for the sheer benefit of participating in fun activities that help expose them to an environment that aims to nurture their burgeoning talents while fully immersed in the quintessential family outing.
As the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro clocks in another historical notation, people of color are enjoying the unprecedented wins of athletes like Simone Bile and Simone Manuel, who each dominated their sport with refreshing vigor and astute dignity.
Ashe's racial makeup combined with his unblemished record is undoubtedly a force in creating an outlet that invites children from various backgrounds to participate in a day of events that includes entertainment and games ushered from "chart-topping performers, celebrities, and some of the greatest tennis players in the game."
Adams is proud that she is at the helm of a vibrant celebration that recruits the intersection of sports and entertainment in a meaningful way that could produce future champions on the horizon.
The star-studded roster of stars include musical acts like Zara Larrsson, Jordan Fisher and Flo Rida who is beyond excited to lend his voice to a movement that encourages the footsteps of the younger generation towards the right direction -- "I'm thrilled to be performing at AAKD in honor of the legendary Arthur Ashe. He was a brave pioneer and role model both on and off the court and it's important to keep his legacy strong, especially among the next generation." The show will be co-hosted by Disney Channel's Joey Bragg, with assistance from Jordan Fisher and Laura Marano.
We all need heroes, especially now that the charged climate forces us to accept the hopelessness that regulates children of "a certain background" to the back burner of impending success.
Arthur Ashe never imagined that he would succumb to the dire effects of AIDS but even before his demise, he was already charting his course through humble initiatives that include -- the USTA Foundation -- funneled by the quest to assign enough funds to the National Junior Tennis & Learning Network (NJTL) that is geared towards the adherence of youth-intensive organizations that continue the mantra that was instituted almost fifty years ago.
The Arthur Ashe Kids' Day will feature current reigning champs Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who will be engaged in ball play with a host of impressionable young minds who will take over the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in a bid to prove their prowess and enjoy a day of fun under the sun, that beams the rays of possibilities nestled in the bosom of a man who continues to inspire utmost excellence.
This day of recognition also does justice to the team of kids who need the support that would ordinarily elude them for reasons beyond their capacity.
The USTA details how their objectives work for the betterment of the disadvantaged and those who are eager to learn the ropes. All proceeds from the day long event will be funneled to the purpose of sustaining the goals of the National Junior Tennis & Learning Network (NJTL) -- a detailed network that is made up of over 500 non-profit organizations that have been created for the benefit of supporting channels that champion the pursuits of young people around the country -- that need culturally-inclined programs to help spearhead their initiation into structured templates that are designated for their entry into the fundamentals of their passion.
The lucky entrants are given access to "free or low-cost tennis, education and life-skills programming to more than 225,000 children each year."
The show initially aired on ESPN2 in 2015, which coincided with the network's first outing as Host Broadcaster of the US Open.
In 2016, the baton will be passed on to ABC, and the hope is that this highly-anticipated event will continue to inspire and thrive under the banner of the unbeatable talent who died before his time but not before embedding his mission statement into the fabric of the incubator that hosted his dreams.
Many more are going to come true -- and the Arthur Ashe Kids' Day has been propped as the conveyor of future aspirations for the young ones who wouldn't mind swapping balls with the superstars of a sport they adulate while also grooving to the jams of music's best -- amongst the company of family and friends.
The US Open is slated from August 29-September 11. If you can't make the all-day event scheduled for Saturday, August 27th, at the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY - then you definitely have to tune in when all the fun and educative mayhem will be broadcasted for your viewing pleasure on ABC - Sunday, August, 28 from 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 pm (ET).
You can gain entry into the all day event for $10 which covers general admission or buy your tickets through Ticketmaster (1-866-OPEN-TIX), www.usopen.org or visit the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center box office.
To learn more about the legacy of Arthur Ashe -- visit the Arthur Ashe Learning Center -- www.arthurashe.org
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