Wilton teen reaps racquet windfall for Grassroots Tennis (video)

What started out as a simple drive to get some better racquets for the kids in the Norwalk Grassroots Tennis program turned into something much bigger for Owen McKessy.

In just two weeks, the Wilton High sophomore was able to collect more than 130 racquets, many of them brand new, for the nonprofit Norwalk program, which introduces underprivileged inner-city boys and girls to the sport of tennis.

Last Friday, the kids got their new racquets when McKessy arrived at the Roodner tennis courts in South Norwalk, along with his family.

“This is a great opportunity for our program. The kids getting new racquets and some well-conditioned, good racquets, to trade in for their old racquets, was wonderful. It’s great motivation for them,” said David Kimani, director of tennis for NGT. “Without good equipment it’s difficult to play well, so we greatly appreciate the help.”

The program, which was started in 1995, draws about 200 players, almost all from the Roodner Court projects next door. In addition to molding young tennis players, it also focuses on education off the court and in the classroom through a mentoring program. According to the NGT website, “Our target youngsters are those living in and around the Norwalk Housing Authority, often from single parent households and from environments that include drugs and violence. Almost all are African-American or Latino who are free-lunch eligible, an indicator of poverty.”

Many of the kids play on the program’s six age-group teams, from 8-U to 18-U. This past summer, the NGT 16-under team won the state championship.

McKessy, who plays tennis for the Wilton High program, began volunteering with the program this summer.

“At the beginning of August I heard through a family friend about Grassroots tennis, so I decided to give it a try. I went there and I played with them two hours to three hours every morning for two weeks, and I had a blast,” he said. “I asked myself, What could I do more to help these kids? So I came up with the idea for a racquet drive.”

After taking the idea to several tennis pros in the area, and getting their support, he purchased five big, blue buckets and set them up at five Fairfield County country clubs — Silver Spring, Darien, Wee Burn, Tokeneke and the Lake Club in Wilton, where his father Scott is president.

The Big Blue Bucket Donations got a huge response.

“After two weeks we were getting calls from the clubs saying the buckets were packed full. They had at least 20 to 25 racquets in each bucket, which is amazing — more than I ever imagined,” said McKessy.

The Lake Club’s director of tennis, Berend Von Toors, also reached out to Let’s Play It Forward, a student-run group based in Westchester County, N.Y., that donates unused sporting equipment. That resulted in 56 brand-new Wilson tennis racquets.


On Friday, McKessy and his father, mother Kim and sister Grace, along with Von Toors, arrived at the Roodner courts with several boxes of racquets, which were quickly gobbled up by the delighted players.

“They can keep playing the game they love, getting better at the game, and also doing well at school. Family, the Lake Club members and staff have been tremendous in helping us and helping our program,” said Kimani. “It has a big impact. They know with a good racquet you can hit the ball better and it inspires them to keep playing the game, and that is a great asset for our program. When they play more, they get better. Then we have an impact on their lives, on the court and off the court.”

“It’s so happy to see other people happy,” said McKessy. “It’s like my parents always say, What did you do for someone else today? Giving back just makes you feel good about yourself. Seeing all these people’s reactions, and helping them, makes you feel so good inside.”