Illini teach tennis to kids in New Orleans

By Eric Chima

In between a tough match with No. 10 LSU and days of rigorous training in the Louisiana sun, the No. 6 Illinois men’s tennis team found time last week to play around with the kids.

The Illini spent last Friday of their spring break giving tennis lessons to children in New Orleans, a small attempt to give something back to the wounded city.

“Being down there was just awe-inspiring, obviously not in a positive way, but in terms of Holy Toledo, the amount of devastation that still exists down there,” head coach Brad Dancer said. “A lot of people are looking for positive energy, and we thought it would be a great way for us to give something to the city.”

The team spent some time driving around the city that day, visiting some of the areas that were particularly badly hit by Hurricane Katrina. Even the courts the Illini gave the lessons on had been shredded, and the surrounding fences were still uprooted from the storm that passed through almost a year and a half ago.

“It was pretty disturbing to see houses with signs on them like “TFW,” for totally full of water, and they’d have numbers like people rescued, people that died, pets rescued,” senior GD Jones said. “We saw houses with roofs blown off. It was pretty humbling to see what nature can do.”

The Illini lost to LSU in a close 4-3 match Tuesday, then spent the next two days practicing on a variety of surfaces before taking Friday to see the city and hit around with the kids. At the event’s peak, Dancer said, the team was spread out with about 70 kids on 10 courts.

“It’s a lot of fun to do that every once in a while,” Dancer said. “It gives you a chance to get in with local customs and meet the local people. We’re obviously in a high-stress, competitive environment here and that’s something different. We were just trying to be silly and fun and goofy, and I’m usually pretty good at that.”