For nine years, Corinne Salter has spent five days a week at her “second home” otherwise known as XS Tennis. For the first five years, she was more like the “mascot” for the nation’s largest minority tennis organization.
“I was cute. . . . I was clumsy. I spent way more time picking up balls than I did hitting them. But now, I’m having a breakout year. I got a perfect score on the entrance exam to Whitney Young. I’m putting in extra hours on Sunday afternoons. My feet have finally stopped growing,” said Corinne, who just graduated from sixth grade at Skinner West Elementary Schools.
“I represent the next generation of XS players whose future is now secured with the XS Tennis Village,” she said. “This new academic and athletic center will provide a permanent space for us to continue pursuing college scholarships and joining the dozens of XS alumni who’ve been able to access college through tennis scholarships. Becoming a college-level student-athlete presents our greatest opportunity to access and complete college.”
On Monday, Corinne joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and XS Tennis president and founder Kamau Murray at a groundbreaking ceremony for a $9.8 million center to be built on a Washington Park site at 5256-to-5338 S. State that once housed the CHA’s Robert Taylor Homes.
With a $2.9 million tax-increment-financing subsidy and a last-minute fundraising push from Emanuel, the state-of-the-art center will have 12 indoor and 19 outdoor tennis courts as well as a fitness center, track, training space and classrooms.
XS Tennis already provides free tennis for 2,000 Chicago Public School students through its portable, in-school Tennis XSpress program. The new state-of-the-art center will double the number of schools and participants to 4,000 students.
Chicagoan Taylor Townsend, who made a surprise splash at the 2014 French Open, is a graduate of the program.
At Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony at Beasley Elementary School, 5255 S. State, local Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) sang Emanuel’s praises for getting the ambitious project over the fundraising finish line.
“I saw it firsthand. I couldn’t believe it — how much money this man [Emanuel] raised in an hour. In an hour for this development,” said Dowell, who went to college on a basketball scholarship and knows the power of sports to “transform the lives” of inner-city kids.
Emanuel, who raised a record $22 million to get re-elected, acknowledged that he played a role in filling the final fundraising gap.
“We were at a lunch that Les Coney [executive vice president of Mesirow Financial, who’s on the board of XS Tennis] put on. And we were, what, $300,000 short. So, I just told him, `Lock the doors. Nobody’s leaving until we find $300,000 and, the good news is, we found $300,000 in that room,” Emanuel said.
Then the mayor turned the spotlight on Corinne Salter and the perfect score she got on the Whitney Young entrance exam.
“This is going to be a tennis facility. It’s gonna have a track. It’s gonna have basketball. But the reason the city of Chicago wanted to support this was not only the economic development and the sense of bringing a community together and giving kids a chance at a brighter future and scholarships,” Emanuel said.
“Don’t assume the scholarships that come from XS Tennis are gonna be tennis scholarships,” he said. “When you just heard somebody who’s a rising seventh-grader talk about their grades, the scholarships could be in any field. There’s tutoring that goes on and assistance in education. So the kids that go to XS Tennis are gonna be champions on the court and in the classroom. Not just on the court.”