Shriver sees effects of her Tennis Challenge on families

GOOD WORKS

Baltimore Hall-of-Famer's fundraiser event benefits children

December 06, 2009|By Sandra McKee | sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Tennis Hall of Fame member and Baltimore native Pam Shriver is busy these days with her three young children, George, 5, and twins Kate and Sam, 4.

"They are a total handful," she said from her Los Angeles home. "I'm trying to teach all of them that games are part of education - that the whole body is important. I'm trying to empower them to make the right decisions: the importance of eating well, dental hygiene. We're talking about the food pyramid."

Shriver, 47, said she is at the time of her life where she can see the positive impact the distribution of money from her annual charity tennis tournament can have on families in her hometown.

"I'm seeing it right here," she said. "The importance of education, health, physical fitness and empowering kids early on."

Shriver grew up in a Lutherville home where giving back to the community in which her family lived was always important. Her dad served on the Children's Hospital board, and her mom volunteered for many years at the old Children's Hospital on Greenspring Avenue.

When Shriver's tennis, a game she learned as a child in part in association with programs provided by the Baltimore Tennis Patrons, eventually took her to a Top 3 singles and No. 1 doubles ranking in the world with her longtime playing partner Martina Navratilova, she never forgot how she got there.

She realized she could make a difference to her hometown and started the Tennis Challenge, a showcase charity tournament that has benefited from the appearances of the most famous professional players in the world during the past 23 years.

The 24th edition is Wednesday at 1st Mariner Arena and will feature former world No. 1 players John McEnroe and Lindsay Davenport, current No. 1 doubles players Mike and Bob Bryan, and young stars Melanie Oudin and John Isner. Like every other year, proceeds will go to the Baltimore Community Foundation for distribution among children's charities.

"The first three years, we supported Cystic Fibrosis" Foundation, Shriver said. "We continue to support that group, but we also diversified. Frank Deford's initial involvement with our event got us involved with cystic fibrosis, which is diagnosed in children at 1, 3 and 4 years old, and then my family's connections to Children's Hospital just led me toward making the children's charities the primary recipients."

Shriver's tournament has raised more than $4 million that has been distributed to more than 100 Baltimore organizations, such as Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., the Baltimore Police Community Fund, Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons, Teach for America-Baltimore and The Youth Outreach Foundation.

Teach for America, which Courtney Cass, managing director of development, said brings forceful teachers with an understanding of the challenges facing public schools into the city, received a grant for $7,369 from Shriver's Tennis Challenge money two years ago that was combined with other grants to bring in 15 early-childhood cohort teachers in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten this year.

And the Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons have used gifts from the tennis fund to build after-school and summer programs that focus on low-income children.

"Six or seven years ago, with Pam's involvement, we determined we should be focused on health, exercise and self-esteem benefits to populations not exposed by geography or economics," BTP president Clinton Kelly said. "With principal help from Pam and the Tennis Challenge, we began those programs, focusing on nutrition, curriculum and academic programs. A lot of people have helped, but it was the Tennis Challenge that has made it all happen."

In California, Shriver reveals a special place in her heart for the Tennis Patrons.

"The sport of tennis has given me the world," Shriver said. "My kids are now taking an interest in it. My 5-year-old and I are having a ball playing. He's just old enough to whack the ball off the board, and it gives me flashbacks to my tennis, growing up and the fun we all had in the Baltimore Tennis Patrons' family program.

"I'm emotional about it. I had two sisters, but I read you can bond best with boys when you're doing something together. I see this, and I can relate to the families back home, learning the game through Baltimore Tennis Patrons programs.

"It's not putting food on the table or a roof over their heads, but it's vital to family and health."

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