Fijian scholarship house plays a major role for tennis talent

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The Margaret Court Cup is a tournament children living in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) scholarship house in Fiji look forward to every year.

Former ITF Development officer for the Pacific region, Dan O’Connell, was instrumental in finding talent in nations such as Fiji, Cook Islands and the Solomon Islands and providing them a pathway to success.

Children as young as 10 would leave home to take up the offer and live in a completely new environment in Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest township, with the opportunity to move to the US on a tennis scholarship if they work hard enough.

O’Connell also worked closely with tournament director Phil Shanahan to develop the concept of the Margaret Court Cup more than 15 years ago.

Shanahan coached Papua New Guinean export Abigail Tere-Apisah at the Margaret Court Tennis Academy on the Border, who was originally a product of the ITF house.

Tere-Apisah finished school in Albury in 2010 and headed to college in Atlanta in the US, before turning professional.

She narrowly lost in the final of a wildcard playoff for this year’s Australian Open in China.

“Some of them are coming from backgrounds where there’s no way they would have an opportunity like this,” Shanahan said.

“They’re doing full-time tennis, they’re being educated and at the end of it they have the opportunity to go to NMMI (New Mexico Military Institute) in the US for a college tennis scholarship.

“That then sets them up for getting a degree.

“What kid do we know at 10 years of age that leaves home and may not go back?

“This is a whole world we have no idea about.”

“The children are living in the house all year-round, they come out in January and don’t go home until the end of November,” Purcell said.

“They go to school around Lautoka or Nadi, but it’s changing this year to home schooling at the house so they can train more.

“Most of them will do online schooling to give them a chance to play more tennis.

“We’ve got a coach from South Africa who lives in the house full-time and there will be tutors dropping in and out.

“But they come to the house not knowing who’s there, who the coaches are, who the cooks are, who’s going to look after their washing.

“The kids have to be 12-years-old now (to move the house), but a 12-year-old doesn’t necessarily know anything about where they’re going.

“They don’t come out for a trial run or a visit like you would for a college scholarship.

“They don’t go home for birthdays or school holidays or anything like that.”

Zorika Morgan (Solomon Islands) and Conatsu Kaga (Saipan) have been living in the ITF House for the past year and said the best thing about it is getting to play in new tournaments.



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