For many young people in the sports world, the ultimate goal is to become a professional athlete. The odds of that happening, however, are stacked against them.
But there are other career opportunities in pro sports, as six youngsters in the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation learned Wednesday on Citi Open Professional Development Day at the Rock Creek Tennis Center.
Tennis is the hook that draws low-income youngsters to the WTEF, but the organization’s goal is promoting academic success. So Citi Open officials and others connected with the sport — such as Shane Kelley, Caroline Wozniacki’s agent — partnered with six WTEF members, age 15-17, to give them an inside look at careers in professional sports.
“It was exactly what I was hoping for, a kid that’s open to listening and learning about the industry, but not just this industry, just in general, what the next steps are in general after high school,” Kelley said. “And understanding making goals for themselves and seeing kids that did it the unconventional way, like I did. It’s always good to give back and let them know that they can reach out if they have any questions.”
Jalante Wells, 15, who was partnered with Kelley, had no idea what goes into Kelley’s job as an agent, such as booking flights and hotels for his clients.
“I learned always keep an open mind,” Wells said. “Try to do what you want to do and not what other people want you to do, even though it may be hard. Always put an effort in.”
Other mentors were tournament director Jeff Newman; Kristin Solheim, director of government affairs for Citi; Jim Knapp, the producer of Citi Radio, a free, handheld radio service for fans onsite; tournament press director Sheena Pegarido; and Cheryl Conner, a general assignment reporter and multimedia journalist at WJLA -7.
Antonio Ausbon, 16, who shadowed Knapp and his Citi Radio team, said he learned a lot.
“I got to talk on the radio,” Ausbon said, smiling. “It was a great experience, for the first time. I was kinda nervous, but I did it.”
Ausbon said the opportunity to shadow professionals is one way the WTEF has helped him grow, on and off the court.
“Education is the key to success,” Ausbon said. “Because you need a college education and a degree to do anything now. I want to work hard and get to college.”
Newman and Christopher Green, 15, walked around the grounds doing a variety of things, including talking with players and meeting medical staff.
“One thing that I was explaining to him is, the sports world is big,” Newman said. “You can’t just say ‘I want to get into sports.’ You have to know what type of level or categories of sports you want to get into. It’s like saying if you’re a doctor, what type of doctor. We do event management and that’s what I wanted to teach him. I had a great time. I hope I taught him a few things.”
The kids all wore smiles throughout the afternoon as they learned the ropes for doing a variety of jobs. Afterwards, they gathered to discuss what they’d learned.
“This was a really great experience,” Ausbon said. “I would love to do it again sometime.”