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Wichita tennis camp continues 50-year-old tradition

Published on -6/23/2014, 8:02 AM

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By Nassim Benchaabane

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) When 80-year-old Charles "Goose" Doughty Jr. died in October, the free youth tennis program he ran for 50 years did not die with him.

Alexander Lee is carrying on the tradition his friend started. He's volunteering on the tennis courts at McAdams Park, teaching children from 4 to 18 years old lessons for tennis and life.

About 40 people, including parents who play with their children, regularly attend the camp, which is an alternative for those who can't afford other tennis instruction.

One day at camp last week, Lee hit the ball with 12-year-old Chelese and 11-year-old Shaquoia Williams, whom he refers to as "the Williams sisters" after the star professional tennis players. Chelese and Shaquoia couldn't even hit the ball over the net two weeks ago when they started playing, he said.

"We help anybody and everybody who walks up," Lee said. "That's what Goose always did. Tennis is probably the best sport for developing a kid's athleticism."

Lee, 58, said he met Doughty on the tennis court 35 years ago. Fresh off the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff tennis team at the time, Lee thought he could win against Doughty.

"I thought, 'Who's this old guy everybody keeps talking about?' " he said humorously. "Pretty soon my tongue was hanging out. He mopped the floor with me, had me running all over the place.

"Young guys hit hard, but he hit smart."

Doughty was also smart when it came to working with kids, said Lee, who has been involved with the program since 1993. Whenever they weren't playing tennis, Doughty was talking to the children, asking them questions intended to get them thinking about the future.

"He had a subtle way of getting kids to think," Lee said. "He'd ask questions like, 'What do you do after school?'

"Most of the time kids don't think about that. That's how you get kids to want to be doctors and engineers, by talking to them."

Doughty, whose motto was "knowledge is power," had a goal of getting kids to go to college, Lee said. Many of the program's former students who come back to mentor kids have received academic and athletic scholarships to attend college, such as Paris Cunningham, a junior at Prairie View A&M University in Texas.

"Goose taught me to be confident," said Cunningham, who plays tennis at Prairie View. "He taught me to be confident in my shots and in my life, too."

For Aaron Degrafenread, a junior at the University of Kansas, and his sister, Aryanna, a sophomore at Butler Community College, the program is a family tradition. Their father, Avon, was one of the kids Doughty would pack into his van to drive to tennis tournaments.

"Goose was kind of like a grandfather to me" Aaron Degrafenread said. "I remember him always sitting on the benches talking to us."

While Lee, a certified tennis instructor with the Professional Tennis Registry, trains some of his students, like 15-year-old Kerry Dunn Jr., for top regional tournaments, he mostly just gets kids to play for the fun of it, he said.

He also asks his students to enter the U.S. Tennis Association's Arthur Ashe Essay Contest to get them writing and thinking about giving back to the community. Two former students have won educational trips to New York City through the contest.

"You meet some good people here," Dunn said. "I just have fun."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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