Antietam’s tennis programs get surprise donation at Ellesse Pro Tennis Challenge

Aug. 18—Members of the Antietam tennis program arrived at the Emkey Tennis Garden for Thursday’s VIP dinner for the Ellesse Pro Tennis Challenge knowing that they were going to benefit from this weekend’s event.

A portion of the City of Reading Tennis Program’s proceeds will go to Antietam, which suffered severe damage to its courts and lost equipment during last month’s flooding. In addition, the Mounts tennis programs are receiving $10 from the Berks County Tennis Association for each ace hit during tournament through the Aces for Antietam program.

Those bits of generosity were previously announced.

What Antietam coach Bill McClain and members of the Mounts tennis teams were surprised with Thursday was an equipment donation from Diadem Sports that included tennis balls, bags and other essentials.

“I had no idea coming tonight that all the donations would roll in,” Antietam athletic director Brian Laiacona said. “We lost almost everything in the flood, so it is phenomenal that our boys and girls are going to be equipped for the upcoming sports season. I really can’t say thank you enough to the people involved.”

“It’s a big opportunity for Berks County to bring pro tennis here to the Emkey Tennis Garden and showcase tennis for our community,” said event director Ryan Knarr, who is also the girls and boys tennis coach at Conrad Weiser. “It’s extra special this year, not only for benefiting the COR tennis program, but to benefit the Antietam to help the tennis program there with their flood relief.

“It’s something that is certainly a big opportunity for our county to come together to do something for Bill and the Antietam program that can help them not only in the short term, but also in the long term, get them back on their feet and for him to continue to grow the program.”

A silent auction also will be held during the tournament — with 50% of the proceeds going to Antietam and 50% to COR — which features a six-player field of Ryan Harrison, Filip Misolic, KP Pannu, Max Neuchrist, Michael Zheng and Holden Koons. The players will complete in round-robin play Friday, with day and night sessions. The semifinals and finals will be Saturday.

Members of Antietam’s tennis team also got to learn from the pros at a clinic held at Hampden Park in Reading on Wednesday.

“It gives us a chance to see some professional players and there’s money going to come to help us both on the short term rebuild with the things we need for the program, “McClain said, “and hopefully grow our program to bigger heights.

“The exposure with the Berks County tennis community and with players from around the world is something that’s hard to comprehend. Ryan first talked to me about all this a couple of weeks ago, and trying to wrap my head around what this opportunity is is still difficult at times to really put into words; it’s just amazing. My team was at the clinic at Hampden Park and they got to interact with tennis pros that they never would have been able to do before, so it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Antietam juniors Dominic Perch and Katie McClain represented the Mounts Thursday night and will be on hand to volunteer and watch the tennis over the weekend.

“It’s really important and very nice that Conrad Weiser has been doing this,” McClain said. “It means a lot to me because to see our school go through this has been challenging because I know a lot of people are struggling, but this event to help our school is so nice.

“It feels really nice because I think it’s one of those things that having the support of everyone else to help us stay a team is really helpful,” Perch said.

For Laiacona, the generosity was unexpected but helped provide exposure that will help to recruit more students to the sport as well as teach athletes the value of community involvement.

“Obviously all the exposure from the flood has been unreal; the amount of support we’ve gotten from outside communities and on our own,” Laiacona said. “Conrad Weiser, even their volleyball program has also reached out to our girls volleyball program, and from an athletic standpoint, we all compete against each other, we want to beat each other, but in the end, it’s all about the good of the sport and competition.

“These are good values for the students to learn as you try to put them into the real world and become the adults that they’re going to be; compassionate adults.”

Grateful to be together, Antietam’s goals in tennis for the upcoming school year are focused on having fun and staying upbeat.

“I think in all seriousness we’re going to try and do the same things we do every year and try to work together, and I think if we’re still having fun and giving it our all it’s good,” Perch said. “Honestly, having fun (is our focus) because with the challenges it has been a lot for all of us. I think that, obviously winning games, but just keeping it light and fun this year would be a successful season for us.”

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