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A Huge Net Gain

Nov. 25, 2009

by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor

ATLANTA — It’s somewhat odd that in the game of tennis love is the equivalent of zero.

Love in the sincerest sense, both for the game of tennis and some of society’s less fortunate, meant everything and drove Georgia Tech men’s tennis players Ryan Smith, Eliot Potvin, Kevin King and Dusan Miljevic to head to the Atlanta Athletic Club on Nov. 7 for the inaugural LIVE UNITED Tennis Classic, presented by USTA Atlanta.

The day was a celebration of tennis, featuring an exhibition match between American tennis greats Pete Sampras and Todd Martin, a special wheelchair shootout tie-breaker, a youth clinic, as well as a silent auction with all proceeds of the event going to United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta to help fund after school programs.

“We had been working with USTA Atlanta since January to put this in place and the overall goal is to link tennis with after school programs,” said Rhonda Ashison, account executive at United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. “The big picture is getting youth more involved in helping USTA Atlanta grow the game of tennis in the city of Atlanta, with inner-city kids as well as kids out in the community.

“We thought that the venue, the partnership with USTA Atlanta and the Atlanta Athletic Club was just a good fit,” she continued. “Because this is such a huge tennis town here in Atlanta we thought that would be a good audience to tap into and we were right. It was successful.”

Metro Atlanta being home to the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA), one of the largest participatory sporting organizations in the nation, sure didn’t hurt. There’s just a tad of interest in the sport locally.

Choosing to participate was an easy decision for Tech coach Kenny Thorne.

“Obviously, United Way has been behind a lot of great causes around the U.S.,” he said. “They’ve had a big interest in tennis and they were helping put this event on. They asked us if we’d like to have a contingency there. We were excited to help out. Our guys had a great time with it.”

The day was a huge success with the winners being the United Way, the game of tennis in Atlanta, and kids of all ages.

“It was a really fun day,” said Smith, who recalled getting as much of a thrill from working with kids as he did meeting and having a picture taken with Sampras. “We all have very busy schedules, but any time we can do something like this, it’s really a fun opportunity. I feel that we get as much out of it as they do. It’s cool to be able to give back and help out in the community.”

Thorne has asked his team to find time to help out in the community, to make it part being on the Tech tennis team.

“Coach T came from the same background as us. He played college tennis at Georgia Tech, so he knows what it’s like to be in our shoes and how important it is to give back to the community,” said Smith. “What’s cool is he always looks for opportunities for us to do that. This just happened to be a pretty special one, not only with us getting to help out with the younger kids, but also getting to meet some of the greatest tennis players of all time with Pete Sampras and Todd Martin.”

The partnership between Georgia Tech Tennis and United Way is one that will be put into action again in the near future. They’re expecting to team up again in late December at Thorne’s annual holiday tennis classic. The event will be held for the 13th year the last week of December with local pros and amateur players from the area welcome to play.

“People like [professionals] Robby Ginepri and Scoville Jenkins and those kids have come to play in Kenny’s holiday tennis classic,” said Ashison. “United Way is going to play a part in it. An idea that we’re looking at doing is a food drive and collect canned goods to help replenish the Atlanta Food Bank.”

Tennis may be an individual sport, yet Tech’s tennis team found a way to put team and community first.

“In sports, you hear a lot of things centered around yourself,” said Thorne. “It’s extremely important — and I think Georgia Tech has done a very good job of it — getting out and doing things for the community, doing things for the kids in the community, doing things for different organizations that help out tennis and a lot of great causes out there.”

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