Young Aces Open Continues to Provide Opportunities in Fifth Year

By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer

Young Aces Open Continues to Provide Opportunities in Fifth Year

The Young Aces Open will celebrate its fifth anniversary on April 23 at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Mary and Frances Youth Center – and its goals remain the same as they did when the popular event started in 2010.

A partnership between the Mary and Frances Youth Center, Richmond Tennis Association and Richmond Public Schools, the one-day tournament was initiated to introduce students to QuickStart Tennis, which uses modified courts, foam balls and smaller racquets.

More than 150 fourth and fifth-graders from 26 schools in Richmond are expected for the affair, which features a round-robin, mixed-doubles format involving three boys and three girls from each school competing for points.

At the end of the day, medals and trophies are awarded to the top three schools. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and takes place on the Cary Street Field, where courts will be set up on VCU’s field- hockey venue.

“Tennis can help create opportunities for youth throughout their lives,” said Tina Carter, director of the Mary and Frances Youth Center. “Whether they play for fun, to stay healthy or it becomes part of their educational path.”

Ultimately, the hope is that enough elementary kids will embrace the sport so that tennis will become a sport in the city’s middle schools.

One indication of that interest level comes from Ajaye Peebles, a former participant in the Young Aces Open.

“A couple of weeks ago, we caught up with Ajaye, who is an eighth-grader at Brown Middle School,” said Rachel Rhoney, assistant director at Mary and Frances Youth Center. “Ajaye was in our Lobs and Lessons after-school program, and he also participated in the first two Young Aces Open.”

Peebles was recalled fondly as one who encouraged others and led by example.

“When he spoke,” said Carter, “he could settle everyone down. He had such a calm demeanor and people listened to him.”

Peebles is scheduled to be a special guest for this year’s Young Aces Open and a co-announcer during the tournament.

Peebles told Rhoney in an interview at Brown Middle School, “Tennis helps you get off the streets. It’s something to do and it’s really fun.”

Added Rhoney, “Tennis is still something that he plays with his siblings and friends, and he realizes the impact it can have on his life moving forward and what it can do for others as well.”

Carter and Rhoney have seen the Young Aces Open grow in statute from its previous renditions.

“I think we’ve been very fortunate from the inception of this event to have the support of VCU and Richmond Public Schools,” said Carter. “What has made it so successful is the PE [physical education] teachers [at each school] love this event.”

Along those lines, the Mary and Frances Youth Center offers training to PE teachers regarding the QuickStart rules of the game and makes sure they all have equipment. This year’s session was held at Linwood Holton Elementary School.

“It was mostly a refresher course for those guys,” said Kelley Glen, who helped organize the workshop for the RTA. “They were trained four or five years ago, so we were trying to get them more excited about the Young Aces Open.”

Shannon Scarvey, who works for the USTA, conducted the training session, which was held on April 4.

“We also, as part of the $100,000 grant from the USTA, refreshed their tennis equipment,” said Glen. “There were 17 different schools represented and at least two of them were brand new, so they really benefited from the training.

“There were also a couple of schools with no equipment and we were able to supply them with some. It was very beneficial for everybody who came in more ways than one. It let them get their minds back on tennis and focus on what’s important.

“That it’s not necessarily winning but definitely in having a good time and showing good sportsmanship.”

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the tournament, as well as the 10th anniversary of Lobs and Lessons, the Young Aces Open has added a Zumba warm-up and a yoga cool down from Project Yoga, as well as new activity stations.

One of the activity stations will have a serving cage supplied by the U.S. Tennis Association. Speed and accuracy will be measured. Other stations will include a water relay, team-building exercises, trivia games and an obstacle course.

“We’re just trying to do a number of things to enhance the experience and give the kids different opportunities,” said Carter.

Another new activity will involve the PE teachers, who will play exhibition matches on the QuickStart courts under QuickStart rules.

“They will be modeling good behavior for the kids, we hope,” said Carter, laughing.

Down the road, Carter would like to see the Young Aces Open expand to other counties in the area, such as Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover. Henrico and Hanover counties already have middle school teams but Chesterfield doesn’t.

“There has been some exciting conversation around expanding, in future years, to allow eight youths to come from each school, and also to expand to some of the counties,” said Carter. “I’d love to see other counties have Young Aces Open in their counties so that it becomes a regional effort.

“That would be our dream goal, and to work with the RTA to make it happen.”

In past years, VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership has been involved in the planning and coordinating of the event but they will not be doing it this time. Instead, it will be a collective effort by the community and VCU, headed by Carter and Rhoney.

“We don’t mind,” said Carter. “We love it. This is our favorite signature event of the year.”

The Young Aces Open is presented by USTA/Mid-Atlantic-Virginia Tennis. Sponsors include AlphaGraphics-West End, Martin’s Grocery Stores, Lobs and Lessons, Allen, Allen, Allen and Allen law firm, Richmond Raiders, Escape Creative and the RTA.

The event is supported by Richmond Public Schools, VCU Outdoor Adventure Program, VCU AmeriCorps, VCU Majors Club and U-Turn.