By Randy Walker
Throughout the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit this winter, John McEnroe commented, when asked by local media, on the state of tennis in the United States, not being shy expressing his concerns.
“It’s too expensive and it’s not accessible enough,” said McEnroe of tennis in a familiar refrain at the PowerShares Series stop in Birmingham, Alabama, as seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp1M8KodEXk
But McEnroe is not just talking the talk of what should be done to improve American tennis. He is also walking the walk.
On Randall’s Island, just a short lob from Harlem and Manhattan’s Upper East Side, lies the John McEnroe Tennis Academy. The academy is also the home of the Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP), a non-profit organization, which is making the sport of tennis accessible to children who normally would not think to play tennis or could not afford it.
“We want to provide as many opportunities as possible and make the game as accessible as possible – which continues to be a problem throughout America,” McEnroe said earlier this year at his academy. “My goal is to raise as much money as possible from corporations or individuals so we can help give scholarships to as many kids as we can possibly get, and in the mean time we run a great Academy and provide an opportunity for kids who live in this area.”
On Thursday, August 21, as a lead-up to the U.S. Open, McEnroe will host a gala evening of tennis to benefit the Johnny Mac Tennis Project at the Sportime Stadium on Randall’s Island featuring world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon semifinalist Lucie Safarova as well as McEnroe Academy students Noah Rubin, who just won the 2014 Wimbledon junior championships, and Jamie Loeb, the No. 1 ranked player in college tennis from 2014. All net proceeds will support the efforts of the Johnny Mac Tennis Project. (Tickets available here: https://johnnymac.fanfurnace.com/en/)
Funds raised by the JMTP provide scholarships, coaching, transportation and other financial assistance to qualified young tennis players in the greater New York area, as well as introducing the sport to hundreds of new junior players each year in the neighborhoods surrounding Academy locations. JMTP and the Sportime Clubs have already provided over $1.5 million in scholarships and no cost programming to young players in NYC and its communities.
“The purpose is to raise funds to support bringing the game of tennis to kids in New York City,” said Mark McEnroe, President of the Johnny Mac Tennis Project and the middle McEnroe brother. “The Foundation wants to support the McEnroe Academy find and train the next John McEnroe and at the same time providing opportunities for inner city kids, particularly in the neighborhoods surrounding Randall’s Island, East Harlem and the South Bronx, in their introductory exposure to tennis.”
While the foundation’s goal is to introduce the sport to children who normally would not have the chance to play tennis, there also the strategy that by widening the pool of potential young players, perhaps a handful of these new players will transition into becoming world-class players.
“One of reasons we believe that U.S. tennis has fallen behind is we are not necessary attracting the best athletes in this country to the sport,” said Mark McEnroe. “Contrast that with Europe and South America, where the best athletes play tennis and soccer. If we can bring a little buzz back to tennis and attract great athletes before they get sucked into playing basketball or football, we think we will be able to bring U.S. tennis back to the top.”
The Johnny Mac Tennis Project, Inc. is a registered 501(c)(3) public charity whose purpose is to expose young athletes in the greater New York metropolitan area to the life-changing sport of tennis without regard to their economic circumstance. To this end, JMTP raises public and private funds in order to provide tennis academy scholarships and financial assistance to New York City Metropolitan area children. JMTP promotes the lifelong sport of tennis to and for players of all levels, from introductory programs that reach out to schools and neighborhoods in surrounding communities, to world-class tournament training for aspiring professionals. For NYC juniors striving to achieve at the highest levels of the game, JMTP funds the costs associated with travel to regional, national and international tournaments and provides on-site coaching.