By Gina Martinez
Last weekend, just before the US Open began, Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day gave children a chance to join in on the festivities.
The event, which was held Saturday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, honors the late Arthur Ashe, an African-American tennis player and humanitarian who won three Grand Slam titles.
Proceeds from the event go to the USTA Foundation, which helps fund the National Junior Tennis & Learning Network, a nationwide group of more than 500 nonprofit youth-developing organizations that provide free or low-cost tennis and education programs to over 225,000 kids every year. The program was founded by Arthur Ashe 47 years ago.
Parents and kids got a chance to watch the pros practice and get tips from professional instructors. The event also featured appearances from celebrities like actor Ansel Elgort, rapper Flo Rida and Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel.
Thousands of parents and children attended the event, including Kenny Callender, a tennis coach who came from Washington, D.C., for the event with two of his students.
“It’s the US Open, which is huge,” he said. “Kids can hang out, have fun and experience the different things tennis has to offer. Just to get them to have fun and get into it. Some of them are already, but it’s just to keep that fire lit and if it’s not lit, get it lit.”
In between the tennis practices, there were face painting, juggling acts and balloon artists. Kids also got to participate in interactive games that tested their athletic abilities.
Onyekwere Onwumere, from Fresh Meadows, attends the event every year with her son and daughter.
“I’ve always loved tennis my whole life, and I live in Queens, so it’s nice to be able to come down here and share that love of tennis with the kids and to see the stars,” she said. “It’s almost like a New York tradition.”
Although the event has not convinced her daughter to play tennis, she is hopeful it will in the future.
Jacqueline Babb, a lifelong tennis instructor, has brought her students to the event for 17 years.
“They all play tennis and they just come to have fun and see some of the pros and interact with everyone else,” she said. “It’s a fun day.”
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