It’s about five miles from the courts of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the University of Georgia campus to the Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse.
The players on the Bulldogs’ nationally top 10 ranked men’s and women’s teams are reaching out into the community with a fundraiser to help send kids to camp this summer at the Boys & Girls Club of Athens.
They are aiming to bring in $20,000 through the end of the SEC tournament on April 24.
In Athens, about 300 kids are expected to attend camp between the Smilow club, located at 705 Fourth Street, near Howard B. Stroud Elementary, and another club at the H.T. Edwards Building at 440 Dearing Extension. About another 150 will attend a camp in Barrow County that that the Boys & Girls Club runs.
The idea to help out in the Athens community for the tennis teams went back a few years and is player-driven, according to Meg Kowalski, a 2021 singles All-American.
“We have this awesome platform and we have such incredible fans,” Kowalski, a Chicago native in her fourth season with the Bulldogs, said. “It’s kind of been like, ‘How can we really use this?’ For the tennis teams, we feel like we have one of the best followings, one of the best committed fans and we knew our platform was something special. …We’re really driving this boat and seeing how far we can go.”
Promoting the fundraiser on social media and on the videoboard at home matches will bring awareness. A pamphlet with a QR code also will get the word out to fans.
The Georgia men hosts LSU Sunday at 1 p.m. and the women are home against Kentucky April 8 at 4 p.m. and against Vanderbilt on April 10 at 1 p.m.
Kowalski spoke to Ford Williams, executive director of the Bulldog Club and the athletic administrator who oversees the tennis programs, to come up with an idea for a community project. Tristan McCormick is the player from the men’s team heading up their effort.
“It’s amazing what our young men and women are able to bring to the table,” Williams said. “I’ve been really impressed and kind of blown away with their ability to kind of bring this to light and put a charge on it in the middle of their outdoor competition season. It’s pretty inspiring.”
The summer camp initiative came after conferring with the Boys & Girls Club of Athens.
“We were overjoyed,” said Sterling Gardner, vice president of development for the club. “The tennis teams’ involvement, just saying we want to do something special for your kids, them actually seeking us out, was a great opportunity to talk about our partnerships we have across the board with the University of Georgia.”
Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks will the special guest for the club’s annual Steak & Steak dinner, its largest annual fundraiser, on April 19 at the Classic Center.
The Terry College of Business and UGA athletics also partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Athens.
The Kirby Smart Family Foundation annually has given to the Boys & Girls Club of Athens, Gardner said.
“The things that we address at Boys & Girls Club are things that are addressed across all gender, racial and age groups,” Gardner said.
The program focuses on academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character development.“Our program is truly for all kids,” said Gardner, an Athens native who was a “club kid” himself. “Of course because of the low fee we charge, we target those from low to moderate income homes. We want to make sure there’s no barrier to access for a great program and even for those kids that are above that income line, they don’t pay any more.”
The cost for a child to attend the Boys & Girls Club is $10 a year. Corporate partnerships and individual donations are how the real cost of $1,200 a year per child is covered, Gardner said.
Most of the funds from the tennis fundraiser will go to summer programs with some included in a financial literacy program for elementary school age kids.
It’s not just swimming and basketball, Gardner said, but activities including a summer book club and academic and reading programs to keep kids sharp for the next academic year.
Players have sent letters to tennis donors making their pitch to try to hit that $20,000 goal.
“It’s a definitely high goal,” Kowalski said. “We know we’re not the football team. We’re just the tennis team, but we’re excited and ready to take on this challenge and see what we can do for this community.”
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