March 23, 2007
Photo Gallery of the day
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- While in Florida last week for a pair of matches over spring break, the Navy tennis team spent an afternoon speaking to and working with youths from the Jacksonville area at the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation.
Washington, the former No. 1 ranked collegiate player at Michigan, touring professional and 1996 Wimbledon finalist, started the foundation as a grant-making organization in 1994 and began offering program services in the greater Jacksonville area three years later. The foundation's mission is "to use tennis as a tool to develop positive life skills and encourage academic achievement in youth who otherwise might not be exposed to the sport." Foundation programs have touched the lives of more than 14,000 Jacksonville youth since its inception. Services range from a comprehensive Tennis and Tutoring (TnT) after-school program to partner programs with other local youth-serving agencies to introductory clinics for the general public.
"We like to expose our kids to many different types of people and opportunities," said Washington. "The Naval Academy and the Navy is not something many of them have knowledge of. They are a group of young men who are not just athletes."
"Our days were filled with practice, fitness, and other team events, however, we were very excited to take a few hours out of our day to work with Mal's students," said Navy senior Stanley Kahl (Richland, Pa.).
The afternoon began inside with several Mids discussing life at the Naval Academy and answering questions from nearly 100 kids.
"I felt the question and answer session was the most entertaining aspect of the day, personally," said Kahl. "The kids were very anxious to hear about our daily lives, which is probably why it lasted over a half an hour! I got the chance to answer many questions regarding the Naval Academy and the opportunities we have after graduation."
"One of the most interesting aspects of their talk was when they discussed the discipline policy and punishment system they have and how it affects their everyday life," said Washington. "We have a pretty tough disciplined policy here, and for good reason. By hearing about 19, 20 and 21 year olds adhering to a policy, it helps the kids understand it is not just us. Discipline and how you conduct yourself is something they will have for their entire life.
"I also like the fact that the players on team are career oriented. They all had a sense of purpose and a sense of where they wanted to go, not just at the Naval Academy but for some of them afterwards. It is good to hear them relay their goals to the kids."
Afterwards, the players and a smaller group of kids moved outside for a tennis clinic and a series of games where the kids tried to beat the Mids.
"I can tell you that our kids LOVE playing with the Navy guys," said Terri Florio, executive director of the foundation. "The kids always enjoy the visit and are pushed to excel by the guys. They especially enjoy the drill where the Navy team members have to do push-ups when either they make an error or a kid hits a winner."
"The best part of the day was the beat the pro portion when we had to do push-ups for the kids if we lost," said Navy team captain Adrian Lai (Sr., Tucson, Ariz.).
While the foundation as a whole enjoyed the visit by the Mids, the players themselves also left with great feelings about what they had accomplished. Participating in community service events is not something new for the team. They make a stop at the foundation a regular part of their trips to Florida, and this past fall they played host to a number of kids from the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club.
"As a student-athlete at the Naval Academy I feel it is very important to have opportunities like these in order to get America's youth headed in the right direction and to understand the values of duty and loyalty to their country," said Kahl. "It was a very rewarding feeling to give back to the community and to work with today's emerging young men and women. I sincerely hope that the Navy tennis team can continue this annual event because of the feeling giving back to the community has."
"I think it is extremely important for athletes to give back to their community and their sport and it is something we should be doing more often," said Lai.
For more information on the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation, please visit www.malwashington.com(.)