By John Delong
As a non-profit entity, the Winston-Salem Open is driven to give back to the community in as many ways as possible.
More than 400 middle school students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system have become the beneficiaries of the tournament’s outreach this fall.
With a donation of $10,000 from proceeds of the 2011 and 2012 Winston-Salem Opens, the school system has been able to establish boys’ and girls’ cross country programs at 14 middle schools in the system.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” said Greg Gentry, the program manager for athletics in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system. “We’re right at 400 students who are participating, which we consider to be an incredible number. None of this would have happened without the Winston-Salem Open. It is a direct result of the donation from the tournament, and we are so grateful.”
Until this year, there were only four sports for middle school athletes – basketball, track, soccer and volleyball.
The decision to start cross country programs, as opposed to other sports, was based on several factors. Mostly, it was a way to impact the most possible participants.
“We were trying to figure how to best impact our students,” Gentry said. “We picked cross country because the facilities lend itself to cross country, and we already had the uniforms from the track teams. Some of the other sports we talked about, we just don’t have the facilities. We don’t have tennis courts at all our middle schools, so tennis was out. The other thing was, we didn’t want to have to cut any of the other programs in order to implement a new program, and with cross country we didn’t have to cut anything else.
“So I think we chose wisely. It’s impacting a lot of kids and it’s a great thing to see the parents’ participation, too, when they come and watch this. They line up the way and cheer not only their kids but everyone who is participating. So we’re very pleased with the outcome.”
The Winston-Salem Open also contributes to other youth athletic programs including the Young Folks Tennis program.
Amy Knudson, the WSO’s associate director, said that the tournament is proud to make such contributions and is excited about the impact the new cross country programs are having on students.
“The Winston-Salem Open is pleased to build on the foundation of Young Folks Tennis and other local programs that started decades ago to support youth in our community,” she said. “We believe that lifelong healthy living patterns emerge from the early teen years and decided to provide funding for middle school cross country programs with proceeds from the Winston-Salem Open.
“Cross country was particularly appealing to us because it is open to both girls and boys and doesn’t require a lot of investment from parents in order for students to participate. Also, like tennis, running is a sport that can be continued throughout life.
“It’s our hope that the contribution from the Winston-Salem Open will help hundreds of local middle school students to have healthier lives, improved social skills and fun experiences through cross country sports competition.”