Teen tennis player scores trip to U.S. Open with winning essay

Robert Wright, 14, of Raleigh, says that the accomplishments of the legendary Arthur Ashe have inspired him – on and off the court.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A local teen tennis player says that the accomplishments of the legendary Arthur Ashe have inspired him – on and off the court.

And his tribute to Ashe will take him to the U.S. Open in New York, as one of 10 winners of a national essay contest by the National Junior Tennis League.

Ashe "paved the way for African-Americans such as me and my friends," said 14-year-old Robert Wright, of Raleigh.

Robert wrote a 300-word essay discussing how Ashe's ideals have impacted his own life. Ashe is the only black player to have won the men's singles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.

"The majority of the kids, some of the parents have never seen Arthur Ashe, don't even know who Arthur Ashe is," said Harold Johnson, Robert's tennis coach.

Robert wrote that Ashe taught him what true heroism is: "A true hero doesn't need to be recognized for his or her good deeds, and when you do good deeds, don't expect compensation."

Ashe's example has also taught him that it's more important to spend time in the classroom than on the tennis court, Robert wrote.

Johnson said he encouraged Robert to enter the contest, so that more people could learn about the value of Ashe's life.

"I didn't think that he would have a chance, but I said, 'You go here on, and submit it anyway. At least you're participating," Johnson said.

Robert said winning the essay contest came as a surprise to him.

"I was at football practice at the time," he said. "When my mom picked me up, she told me I had won the essay contest. ... My heart dropped."

Late this week, Robert will be off an all-expenses paid trip to the U.S. Open, which begins Saturday. He might even to get hit a few balls with stars like Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.

Another Raleigh teen, Michelle Matoke, 14, was also selected as a winner of the essay contest. She and Robert will participate in Arthur Ashe Kids Day.

"I know when he comes back, he'll have lots of stories to tell us," Calla Wright, Robert's mother, said.