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East County Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019 3 weeks ago

River Strand tennis director lives to serve

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Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Sometimes, you need a feel-good story.

I needed a day-brightener, and Abdul Idi’s story provided me with one. It filled my heart with such joy, I had to share it with you, too.

Idi, the River Strand Golf and Country Club tennis director, hails from Wukari, Nigeria, a city with just two tennis courts. He was an avid ping-pong player before a youth coach, Dauda Mamman, convinced him he would have a greater shot at success as tennis player. Idi said he was fortunate to receive advantages, like free lessons, that other players in Nigeria did not.

Idi became Nigeria’s junior champion in 1985. In 1986, he even followed in his junior coach Bulus Hussiani’s footsteps and received a scholarship to play in the United States, at North Carolina’s Livingstone College. Those advantages he received helped him unlock his potential. He wants to help others do the same.

“Any time I go to Nigeria, I make sure, whatever club I am at, to say to the members, ‘Hey, do you have an old tennis racket?'" Idi said. “Or shoes or clothing. Then, I take it to the clinic I am hosting. Unfortunately, I cannot give things to every kid, but after the clinic, lucky kids will be chosen to get shoes or a racket or strings, something.

“I came to the U.S. 30 years ago through a tennis scholarship. The game has given me so much, and I want to give back. You never know who is going to be a (tennis) leader in the future.”

Idi used to visit Wukari every year, but now, with his professional and familial obligations, typically goes back every other year. Still, he has been bringing kids' tennis equipment and holding free clinics in the area since 1991, when he graduated college, and the city noticed.

In December, on Idi’s most recent trip home, he was honored by the city with the Bishop (Dr.) Ibrahim Sangari Usman Award, named after the man who brought the city its two courts, for his contributions to youth tennis.

Idi, who has been with River Strand since 2011 and was promoted to director last year, could easily have forgotten where he came from while sinking into our cozy community, but he did not. He decided to help others in pursuit of their dreams, and that is admirable. We should all aspire to give back as much as Idi does.

By the way, he’s a great teacher, too.

River Strand resident Grant Hicks, 12, has taken lessons from Idi for four years. When Hicks started, he knew nothing about tennis, and he is now preparing to start playing in tournaments.

“He has helped me so much,” Hicks said. “He is patient with beginners. The biggest thing is, he taught me to stay calm under pressure.  He is really funny and makes tennis so much fun.”

You don’t have to be a River Strand resident to take lessons there. Individual racquet sport memberships are $1,200 for a year or $600 from May-September. (Family memberships are $1,500 or $800, respectively.) Take an opportunity to learn from a great teacher, and a better person.

And while you are at it, donate that old equipment gathering cobwebs in your closet. There are people out there who need it a lot more than you do.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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