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T3 tennis clinics
Dick Stockton, a former professional tennis player and a 1974 Wimbledon semi-finalist, teaches hand-eye coordination to a participant, at the grand opening of eight new tennis courts April 25 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The boy was one of 75 participants at the “Thanking Our Troops through Tennis,” or T3, event at the new courts, located next to Eglin’s consignment shop. Free tennis clinics were offered by former tennis professional players, coaches and certified teaching professionals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin Gaddie)
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Tennis players thank Eglin with free clinics

Posted 5/1/2014   Updated 5/1/2014 Email story   Print story


by Kevin Gaddie
Team Eglin Public Affairs

5/1/2014 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Among the first people to celebrate the grand opening of Eglin's eight new tennis courts April 25 were players who wanted to thank Eglin's military community for their service.

Dick Stockton, Andrea Jaeger and Adriana Solarova, former professional tennis players, along with local and visiting coaches and certified teaching professionals, were on hand to present "Thanking Our Troops through Tennis," or T3, at the new courts, located next to Eglin's consignment shop.

The event offered free tennis clinics to military identification cardholders of all ages and playing abilities.

Stockton's voice cracked with emotion at times while sharing his personal commitment to showing his appreciation for the military, through T3.

"We wanted to thank our troops through the game of tennis," said Stockton, who played professionally from 1972 to 1984. "We came up with this idea of actually going on to bases to offer everyone from troops and their families; veterans; wounded warriors, a fun, stress-free day of tennis clinics, on-court games and activities, to give them something different."

Among the 75 participants in the Eglin clinics were 11 members of Lewis Middle School's tennis team. The team practices and plays matches at Eglin.

Emma Conley, 11, a Lewis teammate and daughter of Master Sgt. Kevin Conley, a member of the 96th Security Forces Squadron, was excited to receive serving tips from Jaeger.

"I'm happy to meet the professional tennis players and learn from them," she said. "I really like the new courts."

Stockton said T3's origins began in 2012, after hearing a former pro quarterback talk about a touch football game he promotes in Arizona for wounded warriors.

"I said, 'why are we not doing something like that in tennis?'" the 1974 Wimbledon semi-finalist recalled. "My wife and I decided to see if the idea of conducting tennis clinics at just a couple of military bases would catch on."

The first T3 event was held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Approximately 175 people showed up, which "blew us away," Stockton said. "It was the most incredible day. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, including the pros."

The Eglin event makes the third one to date, according to Stockton.

Staff Sgt. Mark Freeman, a member of the 33rd Fighter Wing, watched his daughter, Khira, three, return balls tossed to her by Solarova.

"She's up for anything that has to do with athletics," said Freeman. "I see some promise in her return of serve. She got her racquet from her grandfather, who also plays tennis. I hope she sticks with it."

Solarova, now a teaching pro, saw the environment at the new courts as a nice place for children to further develop their skills.

"Tennis is an awesome game," she said. "These beautiful new courts are a great place for Eglin's military families' kids to learn."

As local residents, Jaeger and Solarova were happy for the chance to partner with Stockton during his visit here.

"Adriana and I want to start teaching tennis to military people, for free.  When I heard Dick was coming to Eglin, I called him and we were both immediately on board," said Jaeger, who was the number two world ranked woman player in the world in 1981 at age 16.

Jaeger, who grew up around military families, has helped them through her non-profit organization for more than 20 years.

"Regular people don't think about what it has taken to build America, and what military people do," she said. "We have our freedom, because the service members here fought for it. This event combines thanks, troops and tennis. I'm glad to be a part of it."

Steve Contardi, one of the coaches at the event, along with his wife, Debbie and their son, Mario, showed support for T3 by driving 12 hours from Cincinnati, Ohio, to be a part of the day's activities.

"It wasn't much of a sacrifice, compared to what Eglin's military members have sacrificed," said Contardi, who has been involved with T3 since the Fort Bragg event. "Tennis is my family's passion. We feel it's our duty to give back. We don't take the military for granted for one second. It's an honor and a privilege for us to be here."

If the first three events are any indication, the T3 program has a tremendous amount of potential to give back to the military, Stockton said.

"I don't know who's having more fun, us or them," Stockton said. "If people leave with a good experience and a smile, that's all we can ask for. So far, it's been a thrill and it makes us want to do more events."

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