Every where Australian tennis legend John Fitzgerald OAM went, there were curious Parkes East Public School youngsters not too far behind him.
The nine-time Grand Slam champion was in Parkes on Monday for a special visit.
He is part of the ANZ Tennis Hot Shots Racquet Roadshow which is continuing its journey around Australia, and included stopping in at Parkes East Public School.
As part of the roadshow, “Fitzy” – as he is more affectionately known – delivered new racquets to 62 Parkes East kindergarten students.
The annual tour will visit 30 different schools across the country and see a total of 30,000 racquets delivered by the end of the year.
Parkes East is one of those 30 schools following its involvement in the ANZ Tennis HotShots in School program with Parkes coach Helen Magill this year.
The program was made possible after successfully applying for a Sporting Schools Grant which gave eight classes the opportunity to experience tennis as a sport.
It’s all to encourage more children to pick up a racquet and learn tennis as part of their health and physical education curriculum.
In total 80,000 racquets have been delivered to kindy students since January 2015.
A whole-school assembly was organised to meet Fitzy where he showed students memorabilia from his playing days, including an Australian shirt and a trophy from the Davis Cup.
Fitzy played professional tennis for 17 years and became the 73rd Davis Cup player for Australia.
During his career, he won six top-level singles titles and 30 tour doubles titles, including seven Grand Slam doubles titles, and a career men's doubles Grand Slam (winning all four titles – the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open).
“My school I attended in South Australia, its colours were maroon and grey so I feel at home here,” the tennis great told Parkes East students.
Fitzy grew up on a South Australian farm and learnt how to play tennis by hitting a ball against a brick wall.
“It’s a game for a lifetime, you can play from when you’re four to 90,” he said.
“[The program and visit] is just a way to introduce kids to tennis – you want them playing sport, it’s healthy and they’re outdoors in the fresh air, and it’s physical.”
Fitzy’s visit concluded with some game time on the Hot Shots courts in the school yard with students.
It’s not the first time Fitzy has visited a school in Parkes, he stopped in at Parkes Public School as part of the same program in 2013.
That afternoon he also visited Dubbo, then Parramatta on Tuesday before the roadshow headed up the coast of NSW.
For what the program represents, Fitzy said it was important to visit all schools, both in the city and regionally.
“But regional schools are a bit closer to my heart because I grew up in an area smaller than this and we had an area school,” he said.
“Regional students don’t always have the same opportunities as those in the city, and I love coming out to this beautiful part of the country.
“I’m delighted to be here.”
And what’s his advice for budding tennis juniors?
“I think the main thing is to have fun,” Fitzy said.
“It’s social and it’s for both boys and girls – but the most important thing for me initially is for them to get a smile on their face.”
ANZ Tennis Hot Shots is Tennis Australia’s official development program specifically designed to introduce primary school children between five and 12 years of age to tennis.
The program uses smaller courts, racquets and low compression tennis balls.