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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tennis clinic offers treat for pros, kids

For a Saturday treat, some families went to see the Columbia City Ballet’s The Nutcracker.

Some college students crammed into coffeehouses, taking a break from studying for final exams.

But a small group of youngsters from Harbison West Elementary had everyone else in town beat.

They took part in a clinic with professional tennis players Andy Roddick, Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and John Isner at the Colonial Life Arena.

The players, who were in town for Saturday night’s Rock-n-Racquets tennis and music extravaganza, played interactive tennis games with the students and Newberry tennis team members.

“(The players) show us a good example,” said 10-year-old Madison Brown, one of the lucky students who participated in the clinic. “I can’t believe that out of all the places they could have gone, they chose to come here. It’s really exciting for us.”

Kelly Cheese, a Newberry College tennis player who was there to help conduct the event, was thrilled to see the little ones’ reactions.

“It’s just really fun to see how the kids react to not only playing the sport but also the celebrity players who they look up to.”

Newberry College along with BEST (Blue Entertainment Sports Television) served as hosts for the event.

In addition to giving kids a once-in-a-lifetime on-court experience and a chance to see some of the world’s top players in action, the event was a great opportunity for Newberry to raise awareness of its tennis program, according to coach Jim Greene.

The youngsters weren’t the only ones excited about the event.

“I did Rock-n-Racquets with Andy last year and loved it,” Williams said. “I had to come back. The best part is getting out here beforehand with the kids. Through the games, you get to interact with them.”

Roddick echoed her sentiment.

“I just want (the kids) to have fun today, even if they never pick up a racket again,” Roddick said. “But, who knows, there may be some superstars out here.”

Rock-n-Racquets is a weekend-long series of exhibition events that raise money for The Andy Roddick Foundation, a non-profit group whose mission is to help at-risk youngsters.

“Our mission statement is ‘Helping children today for tomorrow,’” Roddick said. “We want to impact children who have been abused, neglected, or whose parents just haven’t done what they should have or could have.”

Though the foundation has a serious purpose, Saturday’s clinic was about showing participants — whether or not they ever pick up a racket again — the advantages of playing a sport and how much fun tennis can be.

Based on the smiles on their faces, they succeeded.

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