An international tennis star was in Wellington recently, and he made a big impression during his visit. Three-time Grand Slam doubles champion/Davis Cup veteran Andy Ram from Israel was joined by some of that nation’s brightest and most talented young tennis players on the stadium court at the Wycliffe Golf and Country Club.
Together, they were on a mission — and tennis was the vehicle which brought them to South Florida as they appeared in front of more than 400 people in the Wycliffe community.
The event showcasing the skill set of these Israeli athletes was actually a fundraiser to support the Israel Tennis Centers (ITC), where 20,000 children flock to 14 different locations in that country each day for academic assistance, homework help, language assistance, athletic support and a hot meal, if necessary. The ITC (www.israeltenniscenters.org) also happens to be the largest social service agency for children in Israel.
Ram, who won a men’s doubles title at the French Open and a mixed doubles championship at the Australian Open and Wimbledon during his 17-year pro career, at one time himself reaped the benefits of the ITC.
“Being at the ITC was more than just a second home for me,” said the 37-year-old Ram, who now lives in Tel Aviv. “I have incredible memories growing up at the tennis center, meeting many friends, doing homework and taking part in social activities. The (tennis) coaches were like my second family, helping shape who I am today.”
Ram’s delegation of youthful Israeli talent included 15-year old Orel Adga, whose parents immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in the mid-1980s; 15-year-old Jennifer Ibeto, the oldest child of a Nigerian single mother who moved to Israel 16 years ago and is now ranked as the top female tennis player in her age group in Israel; 17-year-old Jessica Bekkerman, who has found a sisterhood at the ITC; and 21-year-old Daniel Dudockin, who through the ITC’s commitment to education will enroll at the University of Nevada-Reno on a full tennis scholarship.
The head coach of this group is 27-year-old Badia Karkabi, a Christian Arab Israeli. Kam Kuchta, the director of tennis at Wycliffe, served as a special guest participant.
The tennis aspect of the showcase featured a series of powerful, fast-paced backhands and forehands from the baseline, a number of rapid-fire volleys, many overhead smashes and some competitive play in singles and doubles.
Providing commentary during the performance was Yoni Yair, vice-president of the Israel Tennis Centers Foundation based in Deerfield Beach.
Longtime Wycliffe resident and tennis enthusiast Marty Ross spearheaded the effort to bring this ITC event to Wycliffe. He was joined on the organizing committee by his wife Harriet and another couple, Steve and Ellen Wechsler. Ross feels the ITC is a great concept.
“After hearing about the importance of the work of the Israel Tennis Centers … we knew it was a win-win situation, and very timely in light of the further realization that tomorrow’s children are the insurance for the world’s future,” Ross said.