By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They are playing tennis to celebrate tennis in the inner city — a place they are trying to facilitate with what it takes.

“Any good athlete needs, again, places to play, they need good coaching, they need to be able to do well in school. They can’t fall back on that. So we try to provide all of that, a kind of great environment,” John Wheaton said.

Today the kids at the Hospitality House have a special guest. Nick Bollettieri is renowned as a tennis coach. He’s now 85 years old.

He’s coached Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Minnesota’s own David Wheaton.

“It’s amazing to have Nick come in town. He is arguably probably the most well-known tennis coach in the world and has done so much for the game,” David Wheaton said.

It is Bollettieri’s personal mission to bring tennis to the urban area.

“We need your help, we need their money, we need volunteers. All the talent in the world will go to waste unless you have an opportunity to put it to use,” he said.

Because he believes sports in general in the inner city are a ticket to freedom.

“But I think the kids have to understand this is an opportunity. Team sports, you have a team around you. Tennis is a lonely sport. It’s you by yourself. So you have to think, you have to do it yourself, you have to deal with adversity by yourself,” Bollettieri said.

And he’s seen the results, having worked with the most famous sister duo in tennis history.

“I mean look at the Williams sisters, they came out of Compton in L.A. So tennis doesn’t have to be an exceedingly expensive sport. And it’s a great sport, it’s a difficult sport. Looking back at my own life I can think of many life lessons I learned through this sport. Just the perseverance,” John Wheaton said.

“I believe a lot of people when their children come home and they each have their own individual bedroom and they have their martini and their glass of wine, they should think about the boys and girls that have nothing,” Bollettieri said. “And what’s happening today — I just read yesterday in Baltimore, over the weekend there were three murders. A hundred and three, the highest in the nation, and they’re only halfway through the year.”

And so they come here to make it work. to try and connect a sport many associate with money to an area that doesn’t have as much.

“What this is all about is creating more space for kids to get outside and play like we all had growing up, and then just connecting them with great mentors and role models through our program,” John Wheaton said.

With a legend making his case that they can achieve, with some help and some determination.

“These kids, in order to put their talent to work, not only in sports, but in education, you need leaders like John Wheaton, who’s running the Nicollet Tennis Center, you need sponsors, you need people who believed in this concept,” Bollettieri said.

So that maybe some day one will take the inner city to a new level.

“One of my goals would be to produce a state champ out of one of the Minneapolis schools. Right here in north Minneapolis would be awesome,” John Wheaton said.

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