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D.C. Tennis Center Nets an Open Invitation

From left, Olivia Means, Sarah Means, Woodie McKnight and Arnold McKnight lead group toward bus to New York.
From left, Olivia Means, Sarah Means, Woodie McKnight and Arnold McKnight lead group toward bus to New York. (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 27, 2005

As Brandon Weston waited to board the bus to travel to New York for the kickoff of the 2005 U.S. Open, he talked about his own ambition: to play like Andre Agassi.

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"I really want to see Agassi," said Weston, 15, a sophomore at Eastern Senior High School. "I want to emulate Agassi. I can't wait to see him play in person."

Weston is one of 20 aspiring tennis players from the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center who will participate today in Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, a tennis and music festival. The District players will join an estimated 30,000 youth for activities that will feature top tennis stars, including Agassi, Andy Roddick, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and James Blake.

One of the weekend's highlights will be a short video feature on the Southeast D.C. center, which will be shown at the festival and aired by CBS during a program at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

The center was one of five nominated by the U.S. Tennis Association and the one selected by CBS officials to be featured on the show, said Helen Edwards, manager of the USTA's National Junior Tennis League.

"They are in a neighborhood that is impoverished and underserved," she said. "Building the center has added value to the community, enriched the lives of the youngsters and exposed them to a sport that has many benefits."

Edwards praised how the center is "marrying the educational side with the tennis side." Some centers have as many as 23 tennis courts, but no learning center.

It's been four years since the $5.1 million facility, financed by the city, opened with 10 tennis courts and five classrooms. For former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry, it is hard to imagine they are getting so much national attention.

"I am just in awe," said Barry, who created the organization that built the center. "There are many great programs in this country. For them to choose this center . . . it's really humbling."

But Barry quickly adds: "We have a story to tell and proof of it."

The center boasts two players who have college scholarships, to Temple University and Morgan State University; seven national champs; and an award last year as a top tournament facility. Weston, who hopes to play professionally, recently attended a prestigious tennis camp in Bradenton, Fla.

The recognition by CBS Sports caps off a year in which the Recreation Wish List, the nonprofit organization that Barry created to build the center, celebrated its 10th anniversary and received a $25,000 grant from the USTA's Tennis & Education Foundation to work with at-risk children. The Wish List and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation are paying for the New York trip.

When Barry was asked whom she wanted as her guest in the USTA president's box, she thought long and hard and decided: Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

"If it wasn't for the mayor, the center wouldn't have been built in the time frame that it was," she said.

Williams, who will be joined by his wife, Diane, said the tennis center has "broken new ground in providing our city's youth with positive activities that encourage them to grow as athletes, scholars and citizens."

He plays tennis at the center about twice a week.

"Cora's work is an inspiration for what we can accomplish when we put our hearts and minds behind a great idea," Williams said. "It's also a great example of how we need to work together as a city to help our kids -- and that means parents, government, the private sector, the faith community -- all working in tandem."


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