Inspiration, from Andre Agassi

For 52 years, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation has been keeping local kids off the streets by providing them a safe haven to do homework, play tennis and set personal goals. WTEF has a 100 percent graduation rate in which kids frequently achieve athletic and academic scholarships.

When tennis legend and world class philanthropist Andre Agassi came to our capital city on April 11 to receive WTEF’s Champion of Tennis Award, it was an event to remember. Agassi hit the courts at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center with Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and various local media and business big shots thrilled to huff and puff with the famous champ.

Agassi — who looks as fit as the day he retired — showed the same grace we saw in 2006 when he bid farewell to his 21-year career with a kiss blown to the stands from center court.

“Hitting tennis balls with Andre Agassi was like being in tennis heaven for Washington-area tennis fans and highlighted Agassi’s commitment to helping kids,” Breaux told me. Breaux was the top tennis-playing senator for years before he retired. He currently holds a high mid-Atlantic ranking.

Board member and past WTEF President Jerry Jasinowski said, “Andre Agassi epitomizes all the principles of excellence we try to get our kids to embrace at the Washington Tennis and Education program.”

A superstar on and off the court, Agassi launched the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation in 1994. His thoughtful devotion to improving life for at-risk youth remains a constant today. He speaks proudly of Agassi Prep Academy in Las Vegas. I had the opportunity to sit and speak with the gentle giant the day of the event. We chatted about tennis, children, problem-solving skills and making a difference.


Tell me more about the student body at Agassi Prep School in Las Vegas.

My kids used to be called children at risk; now they’re called children of hope.

People told me that I shouldn’t construct the school in that part of Las Vegas, which is one of the worst sections, because it would get defaced by people. But nothing has happened to the school because there is a feeling of mutual respect.


Can you compare the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation and your own foundation?

No two organizations can be more aligned; both reach kids primarily through education and tennis, and the skills that they teach.

I’m curious if other retired tennis champions are involved in significant philanthropic efforts.

Tennis, more than any other sport, has retired athletes who are active about giving back. They reach the most people.

I’ve often thought about the parallels between tennis and life/education. Have you?

Yes. On the tennis court you experience a lot of soul-searching. You set a goal for yourself and get over the finish line. These kids are setting a goal for themselves: getting a certificate. If they work hard, focus, and believe in themselves, their opportunities are endless. Ultimately, if you apply yourself at tennis you’re pretty much guaranteed a scholarship anywhere.

Why did you choose to focus on education?

I started working with kids, have always loved them, and eventually just backed into it. After clothing 3,000 kids a year through a project called Operation School Bell, I finally realized that the only way to get them truly ahead of the curve is to provide them an education.

How is it playing tennis with the kids?

The only thing I really don’t love anymore is the running, so if I can get them to hit the ball directly back to me it’s good.

What about the competition on the courts? Do you miss it?


I don’t miss it.


Describe the feeling of winning a great match.


You realize you don’t have to be good, just better than one person.

How would you compare your foundation work to pro tennis work?

My foundation is much more fulfilling; you have blinders on when you play a professional sport for a living. Tennis has been a vehicle for me to affect the lives of these children.

Once a denim-clad rebel at the net, Agassi has matured into a remarkable man. He joins Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Andrea Jaeger and Jimmy Courier in the sports-philanthropy hall of fame. Go Andre!


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership locally, nationally and in the world community.