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Southern Essay Finalists Enjoy Trip to NYC and US Open

September 10, 2009 09:13 AM

While USTA Southern may have winners in the National Arthur Ashe Essay Contest which awarded a trip to New York City, the section finalists do not walk away empty-handed. Since 2005, the Southern Tennis Patrons Foundation, NJTL Committee and participating states have funded an all-expense paid trip to the Big Apple, including airfare/lodging, tours and attendance to Arthur Ashe Kids Day and the US Open for the winner and one parent/guardian. For the past five years, the trip has served as a big reward for junior tennis players who have taken time to research Arthur Ashe and craftly thoughtful essays that apply Ashe’s ideas to their own lives. This year’s trip seemed to prove just as fun and beneficial for the kids as well as their chaperones.

The five-day, four-night adventure started on Friday, Aug. 28 when the winners arrived mid-morning at the Helmsley Hotel in midtown Manhattan, within walking distance of Times Square, Grand Central Station, the United Nations, the Theatre District and Rockefeller Center. The group spent the evening getting to know each other and enjoying dinner at Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company in Times Square in order to rest up for the long weekend ahead.

The finalists participating in this year’s trip were: Eric Tauton (Learning Excellence Through Tennis, Birmingham, Ala.), Kandler Rhodes (First Serve Tennis Academy, Atlanta, Ga.), Keegan Rhines (Rising Stars of Kentucky, Louisville, Ky.), Jasmine Giles (Four Aces Racquet Club, Greenville, Miss.), Kathleen Gicovi (NJTL of Raleigh, N.C.), Shelby Studebaker (Courting Kids NJTL, Charleston, S.C.) and Shaundrica Carter (Tennis Memphis, Tenn.).
The group enjoyed the real New York experience on Saturday morning when having breakfast at Delmonico’s Deli, a local favorite with the Manhattan professionals on the go. With a slight rain delay before heading out to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the group grabbed some umbrellas and weathered the storm to enjoy Arthur Ashe Kids Day. With the sun peeking through at the start of the festivities, we enjoyed performances by Jordan Sparks, Honor Society and Justin Bieber, with tennis challenges among players such as Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. The day was hosted by Quddus and Susie Castillo with special guest Will Ferrell. After a day of excitement at the tennis center, we enjoyed dinner at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square.

Two Southerners Receive National Award
Sherita Bell, Girls’s 12s, of Tennis Memphis NJTL, Memphis, Tenn. and Christian McKnight, Boys’ 18s, of the Rising Stars of Kentucky, Louisville, were among the national winners. Click for more on their trip to NYC.
After meeting in Grand Central Station for breakfast, Sunday was filled with plenty of New York City sightseeing. They enjoyed the view on the walk to Pier 83 on the Hudson River before boarding the Circle Line Cruise ship to embark upon a two-hour cruise of the city, leading up to the Statue of Liberty. The group continued the journey atop the double decker tour bus “all-around-town tour”, allowing some free time to hop-on and hop-off to see the sights of Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, etc. Before taking in the shimmering lights of the Big Apple via the night tour on the double decker bus, the group met for dinner at world famous John’s Pizzeria in Times Square.

A special treat for this year’s trip was the opportunity to attend the US Open. The group had some free time on Monday morning, which led many of the winners back on the double decker bus to hit some shopping or to the Theater District to catch a matinee! They met at Grand Central Station in late afternoon to catch the 7 train out to the tennis center. The group walked the historical grounds, grabbed some dinner & snacks, and made it to their seats in time for the opening ceremonies and night session of the first round of matches! The group saw Williams and Roddick advance in action before heading back to the hotel to pack up and conclude their New York adventure.

“This trip was an experience of a lifetime,” states Kirby Rhines, father of Kentucky winner, Keegan. “It was a great time at the US Open,” continues Angela Taunton, mother of Alabama winner, Eric. “Everything was perfect and we were honored to be selected to go on this wonderful trip.”

In 1960, Arthur Ashe, along with Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder, founded the NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) network. Ashe envisioned NJTL “as a way to gain and hold the attention of young people in the inner cities and their poor environments so that we can teach them about matters more important than tennis.”

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the NJTL has grown to over 550 chapters serving over 220,000 youth each year, making it one of the USTA’s largest community-based offerings. It is a delivery system for the USTA’s programs, giving youth an opportunity to play tennis while also providing a safe haven, adult role models and tennis instruction.




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