By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. - It was an already special day for a group of young tennis players in Washington, D.C.
Over 100 children from local National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) programs had the honor of participating in a QuickStart Tennis clinic on the South Lawn of the White House alongside star professional players Sam Querrey and Bob and Mike Bryan.
But towards the end of the clinic, the morning became even better and offered another once in a lifetime opportunity: They got to meet and shake hands with President Barack Obama.
President Obama, a tennis player himself, greeted the children, who were extremely excited to see him and he told them he came to see their great form.
"It is good to see you guys!" President Obama also called to the children.
The meeting with President Obama capped what was already a tremendously successful afternoon of tennis at the White House on Tuesday, August 3. The clinic, featuring the QuickStart play format, was part of the South Lawn Series, a summer-long series of events that brings local children, sports leagues and community programs to the South Lawn in support of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to fight childhood obesity.
The QuickStart play format scales down the game of tennis for children 10-and-under, with age appropriate equipment for them including smaller courts, smaller racquets and softer tennis balls, to make the game easier to learn and more fun for the children.
"It is a thrill to be here on the grounds of the White House to showcase tennis and the QuickStart format. Our new teaching method makes it much easier for younger children to play tennis," said USTA Chairman of the Board and President Lucy S. Garvin. "We know that the First Family (President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha) are four of the 30 million people who play tennis and that is a great thing for us. By continuing to work with great programs such as Let’s Move! and by ensuring access to our sport in all local communities, we will continue to grow this game."
On the South Lawn, eight 36’ QuickStart courts were set up with the children rotating from court to court with different coaches to practice different drills and tennis activities – including hitting with Querrey and the Bryans – who were impressed with all the young players and praised the QuickStart play format as a great way for kids to learn.
"We were surprised by how good they were," Bob Bryan said. "I think QuickStart is a great way to start tennis. It is easy for kids to play and pick up a racquet and feel good. With a small racquet in their hand, a soft ball and a ball that really goes through the air, it is good for kids to start like this."
The Bryan brothers, fresh off winning their record-setting 62nd career doubles title at the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles last week, took their doubles game to the QuickStart courts this time. They hit balls with many young doubles teams, with a few players able to hit the foam ball past them.
"Nice shot!" Mike Bryan called to one little girl and flashed her the thumbs up sign. Bob added to another pair of young boys, "You got us!"
Ellie Kimmelman, 11, of Washington, D.C., had a successful doubles match with the Bryans and had the honor of shaking hands with President Obama.
"It was a lot of fun," she said of the clinic. "It was nice to have the brothers here, I have watched them on television for years. I was like hyperventilating (when she saw the President). It was really nice to shake his hand."
Activities at other stations ranged from rallying over the net, to doing drills, and one group stood in a circle and hit the foam ball from person to person to keep it from hitting the ground.
And on another court, Querrey, who captured the singles title at the Farmers Classic last week, bounced koosh balls back and forth on racquets with varying young partners. Playing with one young player, the two moved farther apart, tossing the koosh ball back and forth with their racquets until the ball dropped and then they started again close together.
"Are you ready for a tough one?" Querrey asked the girl. She nodded and Querrey sent the koosh ball high into the air, making it more difficult for her to catch it on her racquet, but she was equal to the task.
Malkia Menguene, 9, of Maryland, was one of Querrey’s partners and also had the chance to shake the President’s hand.
"It was really cool," she said. "(Querrey) said I did awesome. This is a once in a lifetime experience. Not everybody gets to play tennis at the White House."
It was Querrey’s first trip to the White House and he enjoyed playing on the small courts with the children. He thinks QuickStart is a great way for children to learn how to play tennis – and wishes he could have learned with smaller equipment.
"Definitely I wish there was QuickStart when I was a kid," he said. "I just started on a regular tennis court trying to hit the ball as hard as I could when I was about two feet tall so it is nice to have a scaled down version.
"The kids got the hang of it (tossing the koosh balls) and they caught on quickly," he added. "It is pretty special (being at the White House). I have never been here before so it is fun to come on the grounds."
The kids all appreciated the great feedback they received from the players and the vote of encouragement for tennis from President Obama, including Alex Miller, 10, of Maryland.
"I did get to shake hands with the professional players and the President," he said. "The players said ‘Good job’ and the President told us tennis was a great sport and to keep playing. QuickStart is pretty cool, it is fun and the equipment is not too big or too small."
The Bryans and Querrey then played a triples match against a few lucky children with their father, Wayne Bryan, announcing the mini-event. The professionals just squeaked out the first-to-five-points match, winning 5-4. Mike Bryan then asked the young girl on the other team if she was interested in playing mixed doubles at the US Open. However, she declined.
But overall, it was a winning afternoon for the game of tennis as everyone had a tremendous amount of fun and a lot of young talent was on display.
"There is talent here. The kids just have to be exposed at a young age," Mike Bryan said. "We (Bob and Mike) were lucky enough to pick a racquet when we were two years old. If these kids start young with QuickStart, you never know, they have to keep it up and there could be some champions in here."