The occasion was also marked by the presence of Bob Ryland, who was the first black tennis player in the NCAA. In 1959, he became the first black player to join the pro tour. Now 89, Ryland remains an avid supporter of youth tennis.
The program began with an hour-long clinic for HJTEP students and other local children. While the tennis pros held rallies with the kids, Michele Krause, National Cardio Tennis Director at Tennis Industry Association, led a group in a cardio tennis workout.
Before the clinic, TAT spoke with James Blake about his HJTEP experience. The world No. 10 talked enthusiastically about the program and emphasized the life skills it gave him.
“I learned so many valuable lessons here, not just about tennis—about work ethic, about enjoying the game, about being kind to others, about caring more about your homework, making sure you get your grades up so you can play tennis—so you get the privileges that come along with being responsible,” said Blake
James reiterated his thoughts on the importance of responsibility during a question and answer session with children and parents.
“As I’m sure you all know about homework and about coming here with good grades. That was something our parents taught us at a very young age. That you had school, school was what’s important. You get your schoolwork done, and then you get out on court. You got to find time to do it all. And I was able to. And it started with being here and learning time management. “
Justin Gimelstob also participated in the Q&A. He remarked about the possibility of bias in his role as a commentator.
“I actually enjoy the matches where I have relationships with the guys a lot more. Yeah, it is a challenge to keep from being biased. But I feel like I do the best job when I have a better understanding. I can explain subtle things. Why did he do something this way? Or, why did he go that way? I may be able to explain why he did it, what’s going on here. That’s what I try to do. A balance is needed to keep from being biased, but for me, [these matches] are the most enjoyable.”
The Q&A was highlighted by James Blake promising a young fan to turn his “No. 10 ranking into No. 1” in 2009.
A reception and silent auction followed the Q&A session, featuring tennis and other sports items. Offerings included an autographed photo of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the end of the 2008 Wimbledon final.
The event culminated in a doubles exhibition. In mixed doubles, Gimelstob/Brodsky defeated J.Blake/Ahn. The Blake brothers beat Gimelstob/Graham in the second match.
As the evening came to an end, guests of honor, corporate sponsors, ticketed attendees, kids, media, and organizers left the Armory with memories they will cherish for a lifetime.
James Blake poses with program participants.
Photos and interviews from the 2008 Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program Benefit.
Photos: Anna Allen