Legacy of Little Mo continues in Wichita

Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation of Kansas introduces local youth to tennis

Written by Amy Bird

Even if you don't know a thing about tennis, you know the names Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams. A name you might not know, but should, is Maureen Connolly.

Connolly, known as Little Mo, made history in 1953 as the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tennis titles in the same calendar year. Although her life was tragically cut short by cancer in 1969 at the age of 35, her legacy as a groundbreaking athlete and proponent of the sport lives on. In 1974, local tennis enthusiast Martie Walker founded the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation of Kansas (MCB), modeled after the foundation Connolly started in Dallas to promote junior tennis.

January 22 and 23, the MCB will host its annual fundraising tournament to support the foundation's efforts to introduce Wichita-area youth to tennis and expand the competitive offerings available to established players in the region. According to MCB Chair Sangeeta Khicha, the foundation has served thousands of area youth since its inception 41 years ago. "The foundation has evolved over the years and programs have been expanded significantly," Khicha says.

Last year, MCB, with help from the USTA Kansas, introduced a program in Wichita USD 259 elementary schools that will provide equipment and tennis training to P.E. teachers at 12 schools each year over the next five years.

"They are introducing QuickStart Tennis to the kids where they play on shorter courts with lighter balls and smaller racquets. They can do this in the gym, which is what is so good about this," Khicha explains.

"At a time when schools are cutting back because of funding, it is exciting to be able to bring a program like this into the schools."

In addition to the USD 259 school program, the foundation also supports the McAdams Community Tennis Program, which provides free summer tennis clinics to underserved children, and three Wichita Park and Recreation summer day camps. MCB is currently working on bringing the QuickStart program to other organizations that serve local youth, as well.

Outreach and training programs include a Riverfest Tennis Day and participation in Special Olympics Kansas.

Along with outreach, the MCB is involved in bringing quality competition and training to competitive athletes in the area through the "Little Mo" Junior Tennis Tournament and the MCB Junior Sanctioned Indoor Tournament. Khicha says MCB also is working to revamp the region's Competitive Training Center located in Wichita.

The MCB, led by a 25-member volunteer board, runs on the passion of its supporters. As a result, administrative costs are low, which allows the organization to channel funds to the programs that further the MCB's goal to bring tennis and its benefits to a wider community.

"Tennis is a sport for everyone it truly is a sport you can play for life. All you need is a racquet, a ball and a partner," Khicha enthuses. "We want to inspire kids to have a healthy lifestyle and instill character and life skills through tennis."

Tournament supports MCB efforts

The 2016 MCB Kansas Tennis Fundraising Tournament will be held at Crestview Country Club and Wichita Country Club, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23. The event kicks off Friday evening with dinner and a tennis exhibition at Crestview, with tournament play beginning Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Breakfast and lunch will be provided for tournament participants. An awards dinner and auction at Wichita Country Club will conclude the event.

"Anybody can participate at any level and it is open to both men and women. Everyone is welcome," says tournament chair Courtney Ruffin, explaining that players will be split into teams of eight and paired with those of like ability in mixed doubles matches. One team will be awarded the tournament trophy.

"Getting involved in the tournament is a great way to help the community and have a lot of fun at the same time," Ruffin adds.

For more information or to register for the tournament, go to mcbtennisks.org.

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