benefits Arkansas community
Ashley Marshall | November 15, 2019
Teenager Chase McDonnough hopes to inspire young tennis players for generations to come after using his Make-A-Wish grant to ask for new tennis courts in his hometown of Pocahontas, Ark.
Chase was diagnosed with a life-threatening critical illness in 2014, an autoimmune disease that he has beat four times.
In his senior year of high school in 2018, he received a wish from the nonprofit organization, which told him to “dream big” and wish for whatever he wanted. But instead of choosing something for himself, the unselfish 18-year-old wanted to repair and rebuild the community tennis courts where he grew up playing with his father Andrew.
“I’ve been playing tennis ever since I was really little, just messing around with my dad,” Chase said. “When I got a wish, it seemed like that was definitely what I wanted to use it on.”ADVERTISEMENT
Chase was joined by family members, friends, former teammates and the entire Pocahontas High School student body at the refurbished courts at Thomas O. Marr Park on Friday for a special dedication ceremony. Chase unveiled a plaque and hit the first ball on the courts before being joined by youngsters from the community and members of the Pocahontas High School tennis team.
Emma Henson, a wish coordinator from Make-A-Wish Mid-South, said she has been constantly amazed at Chase’s generosity throughout the process, which has taken about 18 months to complete.
“Chase is really an incredible kid,” said Emma. “I have never seen a wish like this before. Our mission is to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
“This is certainly the first time I’ve come across a give-back wish, and it’s pretty unique because when you’re looking at it from a child’s perspective, our hope is really to offer them whatever they want. We go into a wish visit saying, ‘Dream big,’ and our goal is to try to make it happen. For a child to be given all of those options and to decide to give back to the community, that is really rare.”
Chase’s mother Jenna said she wasn’t surprised by her son’s wish. He had considered asking for a trip to Europe before quickly deciding that new tennis courts were his first choice.
“He thought really hard about it, and in his heart he really wanted the tennis courts and hoped that that wish could be made true,” Jenna said.
“I think it just goes to speak to his generosity. The way that he wanted to give back to the community really makes you proud. It’s amazing to have this in this community, and it’s really heart-warming to see how it’s brought a lot of people together.”
Now a student at the University of Central Arkansas, Chase still plays tennis recreationally, and he plans to play on the courts bearing his name whenever he’s back home in Pocahontas.
“It was way more than I ever expected,” Chase said. “It was cool to have everyone there and to have all the little kids playing. It really hasn’t hit home to me yet, but it’s really cool to think about a bunch of kids getting to learn tennis because of it.”
Make-A-Wish Mid-South grants about 300 wishes each year, part of a national organization that fulfills a wish on average once every 34 minutes. But Emma said this one wish will stand out for a long time.
“It’s the kind of thing I talk about to all of my coworkers because it’s so incredible,” she said. “I’ve been continually amazed with Chase as a young man, to have this perspective on the legacy he wants to leave for his community. It has been incredibly impactful.
“It has been very inspiring to not only work with Chase and his family but to see the way that his heart for giving back to the community has multiplied and really inspired the entire city of Pocahontas.”
The unique wish was a collaboration between Make-A-Wish and the city of Pocahontas with support from the USTA and the Pocahontas School District.