Community News: Young Westside tennis athletes earn trip to US Open
April 26, 2019
This fall, children from Atlanta’s Historic Westside will travel on a 15-hour bus ride to New York City to attend the US Open, the only Grand Slam® tennis championship held in North America. Part of the United States Tennis Association’s National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) program, the trip exposes Westside youth to all tennis has to offer.
“We have children growing up on the Westside of Atlanta who have never seen anything outside of their own neighborhood,” says Coach William “Wink” Fulton, Westside resident and NJTL coach and ambassador. “Taking these kids to New York inspires them and teaches them to do and be better.” The NJTL network was founded by Arthur Ashe, one of Fulton’s major role models, for the purpose of making tennis accessible and affordable for youth in underserved communities. “We call our trip the Arthur Ashe Kids Day/US Open Experience because we want our youth to know whose vision made the great game of tennis possible for them.”
Fulton, who coaches tennis at the Historic Washington Park Tennis Center, has offered the US Open trip over the past five years as an incentive to the kids he coaches. “Atlanta is the No. 1 tennis town in the country with the largest local tennis league anywhere in the US,” he explains. “But so many kids from the Westside have never been exposed to the sport. We know the economic challenges that the area has, so somebody has to be committed to looking out for the young people in these neighborhoods.” In addition to coaching at Washington Park Tennis Center, Fulton also serves the Southwest Atlanta community at the Joseph D. McGhee Tennis Center at John A. White Park. The trip to New York is open to children participating Fulton’s tennis programs at both tennis centers.
To earn their seat on the bus, the young athletes must learn the art of tennis and show commitment and passion. They do this through “sweat equity,” earning what they want through hard work and discipline on and off the tennis court. “Tennis is a hook to promote education and self-discipline,” Fulton says. “We use tennis to help young people understand how to be passionate about something. But ultimately, our goal is to develop scholar athletes—to help these young people understand the importance of doing well in school, where it can take them and what it can do for them.”
And Fulton’s “be all you can be” teaching method seems to be working. Several of his former students became scholar athletes at Ivy League schools. He says, “We have developed players who have played college tennis on academic and tennis scholarships all over the country.” The trip also opens up other career opportunities, says Fulton. “They see that they can become hitting coaches, physical therapists – they can be whatever they want.”
While only a select number of kids can attend the trip, Fulton’s hope is that all youth participating in his program can go one day. “The trip is funded through donations. As the community learns more about the tennis program and this trip, it’s becoming easier to raise funds,” says Fulton. “Once kids and families get a chance to experience what tennis can bring them, the community also starts to get behind it.”