KENWOOD — Pro tennis coach Nick Bollettieri helped XS Tennis roll out plans for a new multi-sport complex by helping some of its young students in a special one-day event Wednesday at the XS Tennis facility in Kenwood.
The former coach of Serena and Venus Williams took the lead early, teaching the kids life lessons along with some tennis fundamentals.
"I bring a lot of years of experience of both successes and failures, and to share those with the kids is important," Bollettieri said. "I think kids have got to know this. They've got to know how difficult the world is today."
Bollettieri, who helped 10 of his former students become become the No. 1-ranked players in the country, talked to the kids about "the devils and not selling their character away."
He said he hoped the kids take home some of his message, but he also wanted to make sure they had a good time.
"I want them to say 'Mommy, I had fun today. I listened to some man, and he was talking about character and this and that, but he said how important it is to dream, to dream big,'" he said.
Rachel Whiteside enjoyed Bollettieri's message and thought her 8-year-old daughter, Sydni, did too.
"I think his message was appreciated. Kids in our community don't get this opportunity often," Whiteside said. "I enjoyed it, and she seemed to enjoy it. She was shaking her head affirming it."
Whiteside looked into enrolling her daughter in tennis classes after noticing her playing "Wii Tennis" for hours. When she realized her daughter was serious about tennis, she was referred to XS Tennis by a family friend.
Kamau Murray, 33, president of XS Tennis, brought in his former coach Bollettieri to help drum up support for the new facility.
"He said he would help us kick it off and offer some guidance as we build a new facility: what to look out for, how to set it up, how to lay it out, how to get the most out of the kids, how to provide the most rounded program from a nutritional standpoint and educational standpoint," Murray said.
"We were just meeting, having a pow-wow, and we figured since he was up here he might as well spend some time with the kids and see the community," said Murray.
Murray, a Whitney Young High School graduate who won four Chicago Public Schools championships, said he has known for years that XS Tennis eventually would have to move out of its current home inside LA Fitness at 1301 E. 47th St. in Kenwood.
He said owners have been working over the years to build a successful program that would help provide a foundation for efforts to build a new $7 million facility in Washington Park.
"The kids spent the time working, winning tournaments, performing in the classroom," Murray said. "So now when it's time to ask for the money and ask for the donations the conversation is easier. Its easier because we're showing up to the table with six years of results."
"This is a well-established model with tangible results and impressive results for where we are. You don't see this many minority kids out here playing tennis, doing positive things at 4 o'clock in the afternoon [as] opposed to walking the streets," Murray said.
The new facility would house 27 tennis courts, basketball courts, a track-and-field area and five classrooms for tutoring and ACT prep, he said. Former Olympic Champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee is expected to run the track program, and Chicago native Quentin Richardson will run the basketball program.
"The plan is actually to bring the best from various fields. We want this to be a place where kids come every day after school. Even if you don't come in to play a sport today, we want you to come in to get help for your homework," Murray said.
Murray said the owners received $4 million in bank financing and are requesting TIF money to help build the complex, but still need to raise another $1 million before they can start construction as planned in April.