U.S. Open Experience Story
Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day/U.S. Open Experience: How and why it all began.
The story of what is now known as the Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day/U.S. Open Experience began in August of 1997 when Coach Sharon Lester and Coach Jerome Coxton served as the head coaches for the City of Atlanta’s boys and girls tennis teams that represented Atlanta in what was once known as the U.S. Youth Games(a summertime competition between inner-city recreation programs) at the U.S. National Tennis Center(presently known as the Billie Jean King National TC) in Flushing Meadows, NY. In 1997 the Youth Games actually took place two weeks before the start of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships and what would be the official opening of the new Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium so Sharon Lester used her perky personality and her wonderful gift of persuasion to convince the tennis center management staff to allow the youth from Atlanta to get a tour of the brand new Arthur Ashe Stadium since she knew that this might be the only chance that most of the youth under their care might have to see the stadium that was built to honor one of our country’s greatest humanitarians and athletic heroes. Once the group returned home to Atlanta, it was very clear that the highlight of the trip was having the chance to play at the U. S. National Tennis Center and being the first youth group to tour the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Because the Atlanta group was so excited about their experience, the talks began about how we might one day plan a trip to New York City for youth from the south side of Atlanta so that they might have the opportunity to actually see the Arthur Ashe Stadium during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.
One of the participants in particular, Stephanie McLoyd, used to sit and talk with me for hours about how it would be a dream come true for her to actually sit in box seats in the Arthur Ashe Stadium one day, if she did not earn her right to play on that court first in her lifetime. Unfortunately, Sharon Lester nor Stephanie T. McLoyd physically had the chance to see U. S. Open match play in the Arthur Ashe Stadium during their very short lifetimes, but they became very much a big part of the motivation for my vision to create a trip to the U.S. Open for our south side youth as a living tribute to the two of them. In 2008 a personal trip to the U.S. Open and New York City with Coach Chris Owens and Cabion Cook, along with the help of Rembert Browne(a former Coach Wink’s NJTL program participant) and Chris’ New York City friend gave me the formula for doing the trip that we have been doing since 2013 if I could arrange the transportation and hotel accommodations for the trip in a way that made good financial sense for us.
Until 2013 I struggled with trying to find a way to make a trip like this happen until two unexpected things happened, one was my mother’s passing away which really made me determined to make this trip happen because in my mother’s words “gonna dos never get anything done.” Another quote of hers that really drove me to get this done in 2013 was “make a way out of no way” as she had always instructed me to do when things got really tough or seemed nearly impossible. During the early part of summer 2013, another yet very positive unexpected thing happened. One of my summer tennis camp parents, Shedrick Champion, expressed that he liked the idea of potentially taking youth from south metro Atlanta to the U.S. Open because of the exposure and that it would his daughter and other youth before they went off to college. He told me that he had a good friend who knew the owner of MLB Transportation and Tours and maybe through them we might be able to make this trip happen because this company had a heart for helping youth. After about a week he returned with an answer from the bus company owner and the beginning of something special was in the making.
Next, we got connected with Marriott Hotels through a work connection of Dawn Brockington-Shaw and this allowed us to quickly put a workable trip budget together because these two items were our biggest expenses. We were able to create an affordable New York City itinerary and once we got enough interested people to pay their bus deposits, we raised the rest of the money as we still do to this day and the rest is history. In 2014, because we had a really difficult time raising the money for the trip Mr. Jonathan Hart came on board as our biggest fundraising partner and biggest kid on the trip and this has grown to be a really positive and productive partnership. Now with much community support and an itinerary that is very similar to the personal trip that was taken in 2008, we now have achieved the goal of making the Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day/U.S. Open Experience an annual trip for youth who regularly participate in Coach Wink’s NJTL activities and programs and demonstrate positive works in the classroom, on the courts and in and in their communities. Because the AAKD/U.S. Open Experience has affected our youth in such a positive way, we have now decided to add an annual trip to the USTA National Headquarters in Lake Nona, Florida beginning in spring of 2019 as our next big endeavor for our youth.
Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson inspired us all through their heroic efforts on the court and through their humanitarian efforts off court. Sharon Lester knew that by exposing youth to new experiences in their lives that it could encourage them to aspire to do amazing things with their lives. Stephanie T. McLoyd wanted her life to make a difference in the lives of our youth and through her example many young lives were touched in a very positive way. Through their lives these four special people demonstrated how to use who we are and what we have to affect positive change on the lives of our youth and our communities are better for it. To God be the glory!