If you've ever set foot on a tennis court (or not!), you've probably heard of Arthur Ashe.
Ashe was the epitome of a tennis idol: athletic, dedicated, competitive. He notched three Grand Slam singles titles over a 17 year career, and was (according to Jack Kramer) one of the best 21 tennis players of all time.
But it was Ashe's work off-court that really made him a hero. Over the course of his short life he worked ceaselessly to expand tennis opportunities for minorities and low-income youth and emphasized again and again the connection between tennis and education. In 1969 he co-founded the National Junior Tennis League--now a nationwide group of more than 600 nonprofit youth development organizations that provide free or low-cost tennis, education and life skills programming to more than 250,000 children each year (Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center being one of them). In 1972 he cofounded the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Even after his retirement he continued shaping the tennis community and the world at large as a tireless champion of equal rights. He wrote for TIME Magazine, the Washington Post and Tennis Magazine, commentated for ABC Sports, actively lobbied against Apartheid in South Africa (which had prevented him from playing in the South African Open in 1969), published a three-volume history of African American athletes, and worked ceaselessly for AIDS awareness & research after he contracted the disease from a tainted blood transfusion. In the final years of his life he founded both the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, and remained an active campaigner for human rights until his death in 1993 at the age of 49.
Arthur's story is probably one of the most inspiring examples of an athlete who used the incredible power of sport to make real and lasting impact in the world at large; his tireless work continues to directly inspire individuals and organizations like ours, around the country and the world, to harness that power to inspire and empower at-risk populations. Ashe is a man to remember, not only for what he did in the past but for how his work continues to shape the present.
National Junior Tennis & Learning, the organization that Ashe co-founded decades ago, asks its youth participants to just that every year. Here's this year's essay question:
"As a participant at one of the 600 NJTL chapters across the country, we invite you to tell us what you think of Arthur Ashe for the 2014 Arthur Ashe Essay Contest.
Arthur Ashe once said: “I don't want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments. That's no contribution to society. That [tennis] was purely selfish; that was for me.”
Arthur Ashe used his time and skills to impact others - how have you used your time and skills learned through tennis and educational programming to impact the lives of those around you?"
The short-essay contest is open to NJTL participants, which includes all youth 18 & under participating in programs at Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center! You can submit an essay by turning it in to us, or by posting it online. The deadline for entry is July 10. (Full prompt and rules here.)
Hopefully we'll be able to share some essays from the Fort community here in the coming weeks and months.