- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s difficult to run when growing up in a big city, but playing and exercising are fundamental elements of a healthy and happy childhood. When started early in life, healthy habits, including exercising, will continue through to adulthood.

However, kids in cities are often limited to small yards, dangerous streets, paved parking lots, or overcrowded playgrounds with decrepit equipment. Additionally, they have few activities from which to choose, most often organized into groups: basketball, baseball, or perhaps football. What happens to kids who aren’t drawn to team sports? These children will not participate, will not run and play, will not thrive. The cost to the child and eventually to society is tremendous.

Tennis is one of the best sports for city kids. It uses the same space as a basketball court and the requirement for equipment is minimal; a ball, a racquet and a net, it’s that simple.

Tennis gives individuals a sense of accomplishment and self esteem. By teaching control and focus through regular practice, tennis is the perfect physical complement to the qualities needed for academic success. The practice of tennis can, however, be frustrating and unrewarding, with many hours of repetitive motions, demanding coaches and lopsided matches.

Important findings from research on physical activity supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show that dedicated leadership is critical to success in the planning and creation of opportunities for physical activity, and that making physical activity fun, social and not intimidating is crucial. As the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation plans for this summer’s recreation programs it is important to remember the leadership role the department can play in ensuring robust options for physical activity that will allow individual youth to get a strong start toward growing up healthy and happy.

In Washington, D.C., local youth have a unique opportunity to engage in a fun, rewarding athletic experience through tennis. The Les Halles Cup is an annual tennis tournament open only to youth in the District and was created for the purpose of generating interest in and dedication to the sport among youth 14 years old and under. The tournament is held in conjunction with the Legg Mason Tennis Classic - to be held on August 9 - and begins with a players’ registration and draw party.

These young players are welcomed like champions from the start as sponsors generously equip players for the upcoming matches. Then they move on to tennis on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the Les Halles Cup players practice with professionals dispatched from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and the general public is invited to pick up a racquet and give tennis a try on courts set up against the backdrop of the U.S. Capitol. This is a spectacular setting for one of the city’s most unique summertime street fairs.

The Les Halles Cup matches are played alongside the pros at the Legg Mason site, the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center at Rock Creek Park. The junior players are rewarded with access to watch the professional players play their Legg Mason Tennis Classic matches. The champion boy and girl are rewarded with a Grand Prize trip to Miami to play in the Junior Orange Bowl of Tennis. There, they will play against the best junior players in the world, giving their accomplishments on the court the recognition of international competition.

The Les Halles Cup was created to spark and foster immediate interest and commitment to the great sport of tennis among city kids. The players are encouraged to talk to all their peers about tennis and the rewards it can bring, which will translate into better academics and self confidence in life. The success stories that have ensued are our most beautiful rewards.

Philippe Lajaunie is president of LHLM Group Corp.

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