Goolagong making a real difference
KYAH Stewart was 10 when she first met Evonne Goolagong.
Little did she know at the time that the tennis racquet Goolagong placed in her hand would lead her 14 years later to where she is now.
In the middle of a hive of activity at Grafton Tennis Centre yesterday was Stewart, co-ordinating a Come And Try Day for more than 75 indigenous children as part of the Evonne Goolagong Foundation.
"Evonne gave me a tennis racquet when I was 10," Stewart said.
At 15, Stewart received a scholarship through the Goolagong program and moved from her home town Forster to Melbourne where she was home schooled.
"After a while I decided it wasn't for me and I wanted to do what Evonne was doing - help indigenous kids follow their dreams and play tennis," Stewart said.
Now Stewart, who moved to Grafton three years ago with school teacher Mark Jones and six months ago had their first child, does just that.
The pathway begins with Come And Try days such as the one held yesterday and again today. Attended by Goolagong and her husband Roger Cawley, several players will be hand-picked to receive coaching within the nation-wide foundation, with an emphasis on keeping children in school.
"It is about using tennis as a vehicle towards better education and health," Goolagong said. "So it's all about keeping your kids in schools.
"Most of these kids here today have never played before. We try to make it a fun day. We want them to have so much fun they want to keep playing.
"Then we pick not necessarily the best player but the young person who really wants to help themselves, tries really hard and listens."
Eleven-year-old Norah Hegedus attended the Goolagong's first Come And Try Day in Grafton two years ago. She recently attended the foundation's state camp in Sydney as a result of that day. A promising junior, Norah is also experiencing first hand Goolagong's inspirational touch and is now striving to one day play at the Australian Open.
"I came to the Come And Try Day and then I was chosen to attend some coaching," Norah said.
"You get to meet new people new and the coaches are all fun.
"In Sydney her room was next to mine. So when mum had to go off with my brother Jacob, Evonne spent time with me and showed me pictures of when she was young."
When she is 12 Norah will be eligible to attend the Goolagong National Development Camp during the first week of the Australian Open in Melbourne.
"My husband and I have been working on the program now for 18 years," Goolagong said.
"At all levels, from the Come And Try to the State and National camps, they have to stay in school.
"It's an incentive based program. We monitor them all the way through to make sure they're still in school.
"The national camp is the reward at the end. From there we give out scholarships for schools. We currently have 37 all around Australia, eight going to uni, sports and rec officers, sports administrators and coaches, including all the ones here today."
GOOLAGONG THE GREAT
- Evonne Goolagong was the No.1 ranked woman in the world for just two weeks from April 26 to May 9 in 1976
- No Australian woman has been ranked No.1 in singles since
- She won Grand Slam singles titles (Australian open 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977; French Open 1971; Wimbledon 1971, 1980)
- She won six Grand Slam doubles titles