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KDES student dreams of playing tennis at U.S. Open

Image: Sohnae McCray performs her winning essay from the Arthur Ashe Essay and Art Contest for the USTA division meeting on November 3.

Sohnae McCray performs her winning essay from the Arthur Ashe Essay and Art Contest for the USTA division meeting on November 3.

Image: McCray (second from left) poses with Dan Limbago, USTA National NJTL Manager, Kelly Jackson, President USTA DC, and  Ronnie Goodall, UUSTA DC Executive Director at the awards luncheon.

McCray (second from left) poses with Dan Limbago, USTA National NJTL Manager, Kelly Jackson, President USTA DC, and Ronnie Goodall, UUSTA DC Executive Director at the awards luncheon.

Sohnae McCray, a sixth grade student at Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES), is an avid tennis player and, now, a public speaker. She recently was a featured guest and speaker at the United States Tennis Association (USTA)'s annual meeting and luncheon, held on November 12 at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University. She was given this honor for winning the association's 2011 Arthur Ashe Essay and Art Contest for girls 12 and under in the Mid Atlantic region.

McCray began playing tennis as a result of participating in an introductory tennis program at KDES, sponsored by CREATE (Capital Region Education And Tennis Experience) Tennis, a non-profit community organization for promoting tennis among underserved groups. CREATE Tennis established a summer tennis program two years ago and a school tennis team last year at KDES, through which McCray embraced both the skills and the spirit of the game. The CREATE Tennis staff encouraged her to submit an essay to the USTA contest. Each year contestants respond to a theme related to some aspect of the life of Arthur Ashe, the international tennis champion, who encouraged the participation of young people from minority backgrounds to play the game. The Arthur Ashe Essay Contest theme for this year was, "Why do you think Arthur Ashe created the National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) network and how has your NJTL Chapter impacted your life?"

Here, with permission from Sohnae McCray and the USTA, is the full text of her winning essay:

Before I was introduced to playing tennis, I knew nothing about one special Mr. Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. Over the past year, I've heard and read quite a bit about him. I've learned about his hard work and dedication, his humanitarian acts of kindness, his big dream for a National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network and his overall love for the game of tennis. Even though I have a disability of being deaf and hard of hearing, I have heard loud and clear some of the beliefs that Mr. Ashe taught long before I was ever born. What moves me most about everything I have learned is that he wanted to help people just like me have a fair chance at becoming successful in life.

I believe Mr. Ashe created the NJTL network because he wanted me to use tennis strategies in learning life lessons. Just as tennis was Arthur Ashe's platform, his life was a stage production about activism and the exposure of minorities to tennis programs and good education. I enjoyed learning from my NJTL something about what Mr. Ashe wrote in his "Days of Grace" memoir where he said "I do not like being the personification of a problem, much less a problem involving a killer disease, but I know I must seize these opportunities to spread the word." I too will use tennis as a platform, and prove that having a disability does not disable my capacity to beat the odds.

My NJTL, the Capital Region Education And Tennis Experience (CREATE) opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. In fact, it's not just me who now loves to play tennis, it's my whole school! We have learned to rise above being deaf and hard of hearing to play tennis, because we use fun, colorful objects for scoring and seeing boundary lines. Our coaches found a way to teach us using American Sign Language! I had never before seen a person play tennis who is deaf and hard of hearing, but I guess some day that will change because CREATE says that when I grow up, I will be talented enough to compete at the US Open! I'm looking forward to that.