The Dunja Dish: Sept. 1
Greetings and happy new 2009-2010 school year!
When I found out that the reward for winning the (to call it properly) 2009 ITA/Arthur Ashe Jr. National Leadership and Sportsmanship Award, was going to be a trip to the US Open, I anticipated a highly entertaining weekend. These three days, however, proved to be much more than entertaining. Check out my photos from the weekend.
Day One: The Flight and Reception
After a quick check-in into the hotel, I had a couple of hours before our official gathering, so I attempted to find Times Square, in which I have succeeded. This was not my first time there. In my junior year, we accidentally ended up on Broadway as we were driving to our hotel in NY following a match at Princeton. The experience was much more pleasant now that it was not from a moving vehicle, though.
All the awardees met for a short introduction in the Hotel and we went together for a dinner in a restaurant nearby. When we got our third appetizer, we started worrying that much more was coming. We were right. Plates with various chicken dishes kept popping up on our tables and soon that familiar feeling of "I'm not going to be able to eat for a week" overwhelmed me. Needless to say, there is always room for desert.
Day Two: Awards Luncheon and Arthur Ashe Kids' Day
At 11 a.m. both the New York sky and the water on the Arthur Ashe Stadium were foreboding sings that suggested the rain was not going to stop. Disappointed that the Kid's Day would get cancelled, we entered the President's Suite in the Billie Jean King Center. The luncheon was attended by recipients of three different awards. Besides the Arthur Ashe winners, the ITA also selected an All-Star Team, which consisted of Division I singles and doubles players, and a singles player from Division II, III, NAIA and NJCAA. Furthermore, we were accompanied by the NJTL Arthur Ashe Essay Contest winners, whom I will talk about in the Day Three entry.
As you proceed to read this blog, you might wonder if I am familiar with the term "rivals." Before you do so, let me assure you, although my English vocabulary is limited, I am very aware of that word's meaning and I am also aware that for DePaul that word is synonymous with Marquette and Notre Dame. Yet, upon entering the President's Suite, I enthusiastically joined the table where the Fighting Irish, Kristy Frilling and Kelcy Tefft were sitting. I played against Kelcy five times, including the loss in the last collegiate match of my career. Since this year both of us are graduate assistant coaches and are rapidly getting out of shape, I dared to challenge her for a revenge-match. We'll see what happens.
To sum up the luncheon in one word, I would simply call it inspiring. We heard anecdotes about Ashe from David Benjamin, ITA Executive Director, and fromer Mayor David Dinkins. The Mayor was also presenting us the award. It was a truly humbling experience to hear stories about Ashe from those who knew him well. I was enthused to hear that Ashe lived by the "If it's a close call, give it to your opponent" idea. According to Mayor Dinkins, Ashe overruled the line-judge at an important point and called the ball "in" on his side of the court. I wish we could all follow his example and be fair to each other. We would have less arguments and more peaceful matches.
Our education about this wonderful man continued when the Arthur Ashe Kid's Day show started in the stadium. As Mrs. Ashe pointed out, it never rained before at this day, and fortunately the rain stopped by the time the show was supposed to start. The energy that was coming from the children who filled the stadium reminded me of the leadership training I attended at DePaul for mentors and residence assistants. I got the chills when additionally to the kids' cheers, a video clip about Arthur Ashe showed up on the screen that was located right across from our seats. The presence of the young players was a corporeal proof of one of Arthur Ashe's many efforts to make tennis accessible to the youth across the United States.
The program just kept getting better. Let me just mention names, and I believe you will be able to conclude how entertaining the show was: Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Kim Clijsters, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova; Jordin Sparks, Justin Bieber ("My fight is your fight"), and...ready? Will Farrell!
The day was so fulfilling that I had no desire to walk around in New York. Some of the awardees went to see Wicked on Broadway. Though I did not see it on Broadway, I certainly felt very proud that I live in a city where I was drawn to the world of Elphaba as a freshman with my Explore Chicago class. So, instead of discovering New York, I decided to hang out in the lobby, where I was able to express my "Subotician" (my place of birth) self and people-watch, while I attempted to get some work done "for the program." I was pleasantly interrupted by some of my new friends. It did not take them much to distract me and draw me into conversation. I went to sleep counting my blessings.
Day Three: NJTL Luncheon
Yes, we had another luncheon. As I mentioned before, on Saturday, the NJTL Arthur Ashe Essay Contest winners joined us. This time, it was our turn to attend their awards ceremony. The winners were ten to 18 year-olds, who participated in the USTA's National Junior Tennis and Learning program. Kids from all over the country applied for the contest, but only one boy and one girl in age category received the prestigious award. While I was listening to the parents expressing their gratitude to us, collegiate players, for being an inspiration for their children, I recalled the frequently reappearing sentence from a book I recently read about St. Vincent, "I am not worthy."
As we took our final pictures and went separate ways, various thoughts kept circulating in my mind. I thought of the kids, and how much it meant to them to sit among us. They will undoubtedly remember this weekend, and if we also remain in their memories, then our hard work that got us to New York already paid off. If we can only touch the lives of those kids for a moment, we already did something fruitful.
We received this award based on our accomplishments, character, leadership, service and impact on the community. Sitting next to the other awardees gave me a sense of belonging to a community where the numbers such as wins and losses are pushed into the background and instead the focus is on how much you are able to give your team, your university, your community, collegiate athletics and the sport of tennis. Being around them also made me realize how many ways there are to make a positive difference and how little I have done so far.
One does not need an award to feel socially responsible and there are certainly numerous collegiate tennis players who have had an extraordinary impact on their communities and did not receive this prestigious award. As for the ten of us, we are now marked with Arthur Ashe's name. Now, it is our responsibility to live up to this distinction and to Ashe's legacy. We have a long way to go, but my hope is that as we are continuing with our careers, we remember those who built bridges for us. Most importantly, I hope that along the way, we build new bridges that will serve not only our generation, but the next generations of children as well.
""From what we get, we make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." -- Arthur Ashe