Mardy Fish and Jake Owen spend time with the kids

VERO BEACH — Before the spotlights hit the stage at Friday night’s concert and before the courts were readied for Saturday’s tennis exhibition, Mardy Fish and Jake Owen visited one of the schools that have benefitted from their generosity. 

For these tennis and country music stars it was a chance to get a first-hand look at the joy they’ve brought to thousands of Indian River County children.  And for the children, it was just plain fun. Since 2006, Fish and Owen have taken time out of their incredibly busy schedules each year to host Mardy’s Tennis & Jake’s Music Fest in Vero Beach.  And everybody benefits – tennis buffs, music fans, and most of all the youth organizations supported by the Mardy Fish Foundation and the new Jake Owen Foundation.

The Foundation sponsors “Achievable Dreams” after-school programs at 12 area schools and the pair visited Treasure Coast Elementary School, one of eight new schools added this past year.  The Foundation pays all expenses for the programs, including teacher salaries.

Close to 200 kindergarten to fifth-grade students, enrolled five extracurricular groups, patiently waited their turn to impress the famous visitors.  Kids from the Creative Creations Class had made head-pieces adorned with tennis racquets and guitars, Nutrition and Cooking cooked up some tasty creations, and the Art for Fun group made them each aprons with colorful handprints.

The Sports for All Year students got up on stage, performing a routine to one of Jake Owen’s most famous songs.  Each time Owen sang, Yee-Haw, the kids threw balls high into the air – and impressively caught every single one on the return.

Members of the Dance group also took to the stage, entertaining with a routine appropriately accompanied by Owen’s song – Every Reason I Go Back.

The afternoon was just as exciting for the teachers and Principal Mark Dugan, who gave the duo a proclamation naming December 10, 2010 as Mardy Fish and Jake Owen Day.

“It’s been huge,” said Dugan of the program. “It’s given the students a free after school study of enrichment, which we can never get enough of.  With FCATs coming up, we’re taking a break in January and will start it up again in March; we can’t wait.”

“Ninety percent of these kids are latch-key kids,” added Susan Brenton.  “With this program they can be here with us in a fun environment; we’re having fun too.”

The afternoon’s activities continued for Fish, who then headed over to the Kids’ Tennis Clinic at Grand Harbor Club where 100 children waited anxiously for a little court time with their idol.

This was the third year at the clinic for ten-year old Quinn Hiaasen, a student at Beachland Elementary School.

“I had played some tennis when I was very little, but then switched to soccer,” said Hiaasen. “Soccer got kind of old and when we moved here, I went back to tennis.  Marty has been a great inspiration for me, and the clinic got me back into tennis in a very big way.”

All the courts are used for the one-hour clinic. Children of all ages and levels are taught by various tennis pros, and Fish rotates to each group.  One group was being taught by Mike Rahaley, who runs the ongoing Mardy’s Kids on the Court program at Riverside Park Racquet Tennis Complex.

“The local pros donate their time and energy every year,” said Sally Fish.  “They’re awesome.”

“The idea is to get as many kids excited about tennis in the community as we can,” added Tom Fish.  “They get to meet and play with Mardy and get the message that – you can do anything.”

When asked about the thought process behind the Foundation, Mardy Fish said, “It was something I’ve seen my peers do.  People like Agassi and Roddick; what they do, how they work their foundations and how seriously they all take it.”

“I have fond memories of growing up in Vero and wanted to do something here.  We weren’t sure exactly what to do at first.  We knew where we wanted it but not what.”

After brainstorming ideas with friends, they decided to assist local children and schools.

“Everybody needs help,” added Fish.  “We’re trying to grow it even more every year.  Jake now has his own foundation; it’s great for him to branch out.   He’s donating a lot to the Saint Jude Children’s Hospital; it’s a big Nashville charity and it’s country music that has made him famous.”

Fish said he was looking forward to all the scheduled events.

“The weather is great; it’s going to be fun!” {igallery 318}

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