NEWTOWN, Conn. – The New Haven Open, along with First Niagara, USTA New England and former US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, helped spread a message of fun, fitness and friendship to kids in the community of Newtown, Conn. through a Free Tennis Lesson.
Roughly 150 kids from Newtown Parks & Rec Day Camp took to the courts and enjoyed a fun morning of tennis, hitting and exercising with Oudin and ESPN anchor Prim Siripipat. For many of these kids, who ranged in age from 4 to 11 years old, this was the first time they had been exposed to the game of tennis – but hopefully not the last, as the day was also meant to encourage participation in local tennis lessons through Newtown Parks and Rec.
This Free Lesson, however, also served to show support from one Connecticut community to another.
"For 16 years, it’s always been the strategy of the New Haven Open at Yale to leverage this large-scale international event to benefit the community in a healthy, active and positive way," said New Haven Open Tournament Director Anne Worcester. "After the events of December in Newtown, it was crystal clear that if they’d have us and it was appropriate, that we would want to bring the joy and benefits of tennis to Newtown. And so we’re here – they welcomed us with open arms."
It wasn’t just the kids having fun on court, however. Oudin, an American tennis star who has reached as high as No. 31 in the WTA rankings, was just as enthusiastic about the day as the youth involved, if not more so.
"I love this; the kids are great," said Oudin. "I really enjoy hitting with them, playing some points, battling some of the boys – they think they can take me and Prim! So it’s been really good, I’m really enjoying being here in Newtown, it’s a great event."
It’s these types of off-the-circuit events that Oudin thinks round out the overall experience for fans and kids becoming engaged in tennis.
"I think it’s super important to do things like this," she said. "People see us (WTA players) playing on TV and at pro tournaments, and they don’t get to know us or see what makes the tournaments possible. This New Haven Open Free Lesson is great. I think we have introduced a lot of kids to tennis and hopefully they’re going to want to play more and more. One day, one of these kids could be playing in a pro tournament, too."
The tournament’s community outreach programs have fed thousands of kids into affordable tennis programs which are fun and teach the importance of maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle.
"The smiles say it all," said Worcester. "If even just one of these kids picks up a racquet and wants to play for the rest of his or her life, then we’ve done our jobs today."