ATP WORLD TOUR AWARDS 2009
Washington Focused On Building Kids Foundation
by James Buddell|
Former ATP pro MaliVai Washington, who has run the MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation that has promoted academic achievement and positive life skills to youth through the game of tennis since 1994, admitted “it was a great honour” to receive the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Of The Year award for 2009 at the Sony Ericsson Open.
“I didn’t expect to receive the award. It was very humbling [at the presentation ceremony] and provides recognition to the foundation’s staff and volunteers for all their efforts and financial assistance over the years.”
During a decade-long pro career, between 1990 and 1999, former World No. 11 Washington reached the 1996 Wimbledon final (l. to Krajicek), captured four ATP World Tour singles titles and represented the United States at the 1996 Olympic Games and in three Davis Cup ties.
“I was one of the fortunate few to play pro tennis. It was a great pleasure and a great ride. I loved representing my country and I met some great people. The sport has and continues to open doors for me.”
But for Washington, “playing tennis was more than hitting a ball.”
Inspired by the impact his father, William, had on young children from difficult backgrounds, long before he handed his son his first tennis racquet aged five, Washington’s passion was fuelled by talking to under-privileged children early in his tennis career.
“In the first few years when I was on tour, my father and I often had people come up to us asking if we could talk to small groups and big organisations looking for small amounts – like $1,000 – in cities around the United States,” he said.
“At first I was the fundraiser, writing the cheques out. But in 1997, when I was sidelined with a left knee injury, I found I had more time to build our own programs in Jacksonville [Florida] and build as an organisation.
“We have seen kids in the foundation undergo 180-degree transformations. Having got into fights in school they have gone on to receive scholarships and college education. Every student has potential; we have helped to bring it out.”
The MaliVai Washington Kids Foundation has since helped over 20,000 children in north-east Florida. Currently supporting around 150 children, the flagship Tennis-n-Tutoring program is an after-school youth development program that offers free homework assistance, tennis lessons and life skills classes.
In May 2008, assisted by financial help from Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, the ATP and members of the tennis family, a 9,000-square-foot youth centre inclusive of eight tennis courts was opened in Jacksonville.
“Within the next 12 months the facility will be at capacity,” said Washington, who admits the foundation will be discussing this year whether it is viable to duplicate the program in other parts of town.
“In 10 years we’ll still be growing and will be offering support to children in Jacksonville. But if we are to expand into different towns our partners will have to be just as passionate, because anything we do, we want to do well.”
Washington had no significant weaknesses and an unflappable demeanour as a pro tennis player, always taking “the good with the bad” during an injury-plagued end to his career.
“I loved playing the Wimbledon final, but my goal was to win the title,” he admitted. “I had hoped to play a couple more years, to return to Wimbledon, but my left knee injury prevented me from doing so.
“In retrospect, my injury allowed me to grow the foundation, to bring it to Jacksonville and it has developed tremendously. I am a big believer that there is a plan for all of us.”