$50k grant brings tennis to Kenwood

By Jesse Orr

With the help of some high-profile NBA players and voters around the country, a Kenwood tennis clinic promising to keep neighborhood youths active after school has won an online vote for a $50,000 operating grant.

XS Tennis, headquartered at a Bally Total Fitness on East 47th Street near South Woodlawn Avenue, received the money as part of the Pepsi Refresh Grant initiative. The clinic’s executive director, Kamau Murray, hopes that XS Tennis will become an alternative for students too young to join other sports teams.

“We submitted our idea online with the idea of basically going into communities to provide safe havens for students,” Murray said. “We’re giving them a sport and tool that could potentially result in college scholarships.”

Murray plans to enroll 3,000 students at 20 different schools for the programs, which will run several days a week from 3–to–5 p.m., with weekend championships at XS Tennis.

“If you think about it, schools on the South Side only have basketball teams, which you can’t try out for until sixth grade,” Murray said.

Murray credits tennis, an individual sport, with “lessons that have made me strong and keep me from making excuses. In basketball, you can say, ‘I passed the ball to him,’ but not in tennis.”

Winning the $50,000 was a project in itself. Murray was notified that his project was eligible August 1, the same day voting started. “We started with the 570 members of the facility,” Murray said, “but also acted very strategically, calling up people who are very socially networked.” The polls closed September 1.

One of Murray’s childhood friends in particular, NBA Orlando Magic player Quentin Richardson, was especially helpful in reaching out to voters, getting several of his NBA colleagues to tweet about the grant.

“Quentin, Dwight Howard, Shawn Marion, Dwyane Wade—these guys have over seven million Twitter followers combined, so that even with only a 10 percent vote, that’s still 700,000,” Murray said.

“We’re encouraging other organizations to do the same thing, step up, and bring money to the table—it’s no use if you have a good idea but no way to pay for it.”