Fundraiser helps grow DC tennis community

WASHINGTON — Young people and local celebrities alike turned out Saturday to show off their tennis chops at the annual Heart to Heart Tennis Experience, a fundraiser which is held each year at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” said Cora Masters Barry, the founder and CEO of the Recreation Wish List Committee, which co-sponsors the event along with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. “We’ve been doing this now for 18 years,” Barry added.

There was also a doubles match featuring local celebrities Bob Ryan, a former
NBC Washington meteorologist, and Mark Ein, owner of the Washington Kastles.

Ryan was paired with Marcel Mordecai of Philadelphia. The 15-year-old encourages any young person thinking of starting tennis “to try it because once people try it they love it.”

“If you do start it, don’t stop,” said Rhajzon Rankins, who won the celebrity match along with Ein. “In the beginning, if you’re not where you want to be, it’s going to be rough and hard. It’s a very mental sport, but just keep going, and you’ll get better at it and it’ll be fine.”

The day included five experiences, including a tennis clinic, a silent auction, the general tournament, celebrity match and trophy presentations.

“We have an amazing tennis and education program,” Barry said. She noted that since 2001, there have been students from the center who have funded their college education by earning tennis scholarships. Because they started playing as youngsters, “they’re able to be recruited by good colleges and they don’t leave college with any kind of debt. So it really does help them in their future,” Barry said.

As they participate in tennis and the other programs offered there, “it builds their confidence, it gives them a purpose, accountability, focus, discipline, all of that,” Barry said.

Tennis isn’t the only thing going on at the center, though.

“They have a computer lab here, they have a robotics class here … They learn how to sew, they learn how to act in the fantastic Blacks in Wax event that takes place every year … here and at the Kennedy Center,” said John Stokes, Deputy Director of Community Engagement with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

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