The 2013 Okechi Womeodu Scholar Athlete Grant winners are Taiyo Hamanaka of Eastchester, N.Y., and Sabrina Xiong of Fresh Meadows, N.Y. Here is Taiyo's winning essay:
By Taiyo Hamanaka
The ideals, determination and other qualities of Okechi Womeodu were made clear through his actions and achievements. He was a great student-athlete as well as a great role model. He spent time on his self to pursue his dreams, but he also found time to help others. These actions show true kindness, determination and thoughtfulness. I believe my past achievements and success on and off the court show I embody the same ideals and determination as him.
On the court, I am a great competitor, but I also remain respectful to my opponents. I won the 14s National Clay Court Championships in doubles and made the semifinals in the 14s National Hard Court Championship in singles. I also received the Lawrence A. Miller Boys' 16s Sportsmanship Award last fall. These accomplishments show I was able to pursue success on the court. I also try to find time on the weekends to coach kids in my coach’s club in Rye. Like Okechi Womeodu, I try to be a role model by helping kids with the same goals as me.
Off the court, I am determined to pursue excellence in the classroom. As a junior, I take two AP courses and two honors courses. I was also inducted into the Science Honor Society. I tutor kids in math on a weekly basis, and I am hoping I will get inducted into the Math Honor Society next year.
I believe I embody the same ideals and determination as Okechi Womeodu. As a Japanese American, my father was called back to Japan two years ago for his job. Therefore, my family has to pay for two houses, two taxes and my tennis expenses all at the same time. It would be a great honor to receive the grant, and it would definitely help the financial problem that my family has. I respect Okechi Womeodu for his ideals, and I believe I share the same goals as him.
By Sabrina Xiong
To this day, Okechi Womeodu inspires many. He encourages and influences others in a positive manner, which gives him every aspect of a good citizen and person. While Okechi Womeodu possesses attributes that are difficult to surpass, I believe that there are some qualities that we share: a driven nature to pursue our goals, the willingness to help others and good sportsmanship.
Like Okechi, I’m determined to excel both on and off the court. I am currently in the honors program at my high school, where I strive to attain the highest grades and maintain active participation in leadership activities. While many of the athletes who train with me are home-schooled, I’ve been enrolled full time in NYC public schools ever since kindergarten. As a result, I’ve become more self-disciplined; I have worked and continue to work towards striking a healthy balance between class, homework, tennis practice and tournaments. At times, this can be difficult. For example, when tennis practice ends late, I often find it challenging to get up earlier each morning to study for an exam or finish homework. However, I do it, anyway, because I understand that even though performing well in more than one area requires making sacrifices, it also makes me more happy and self-confident.
The most satisfying thing about each and every day is that I am constantly being challenged and working towards something. Whether it’s collaborating with my classmates on a group project or improving my strokes with my coach, I am reminded of the privilege of learning something new. While a sense of accomplishment feels great, it’s what you do with it that matters. I believe that excelling in both academics and tennis will make me a more valuable resource and, more importantly, a person who can inspire and help others.
Like Okechi, I have a strong desire to help others. For example, I am a "leader in training" at school. As a "leader in training," I am taught how to teach gym classes and how to assist a teacher or student during pre-routine exercises. By doing so, I am helping other gym classes enjoy what the physical education curriculum has to offer. In addition, I am a service monitor during my lunch periods and dedicate two hours each day to my school community. For the first hour, I tutor other classmates in my grade or a grade below in subjects, such as biology and geometry. During the second hour, I assist guidance counselors with maintaining and organizing students’ records and with helping incoming freshmen get acquainted with the school’s facilities. While these commitments seem minor compared to the actual responsibilities of my teachers and guidance counselors, I find it rewarding to give back and to make a difference in any way possible.
Another important aspect that helps define who Okechi and I are is good sportsmanship. We both compete at the national level and understand the importance of respecting fellow tennis players, even our opponents. Whenever I finish a match, whether it’s a win or loss, I’ll shake my opponent's hand in appreciation of their time. Even though we are competing against each other, I understand that we all work hard, thus, deserve the same respect. As a result, I have been awarded with the 2012 Girls’ 16s Sportsmanship Award in the USTA Eastern region and will continue to demonstrate this quality.
Even though Okechi isn’t in our presence today, his legacy will always live on and affect others inspirationally. I hope that one day I can be as influential as Okechi has been in allowing others to see the importance of working hard towards our goals, helping others and showing good sportsmanship.