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Howard High’s Corinne Chau receives regional tennis award

Howard’s Corinne Chau is the recipient of the UTSA MAS ServeItForward Youth Leader Award.
Howard’s Corinne Chau is the recipient of the UTSA MAS ServeItForward Youth Leader Award. (Ellicia Chau)

Howard High’s Corinne Chau earned the United States Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Sectional ServeItForward Youth Leader Award after spearheading a fundraising drive to showcase the legacy of those who broke tennis’ color barrier.

Chau, who is also a successful volleyball player, received the award for her “Whirlwind Reading Challenge.” The challenge is named after Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson, who along with Dr. Hubert Eaton, discovered and trained Black tennis stars Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, breaking the color barrier. The Whirlwind Johnson Foundation set out to renovate his home in Lynchburg, Virginia, and turn it into a museum.

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“I am the creator and project leader of the Whirlwind Reading Challenge!” wrote Chau on her website. “My love for tennis drew me to using this opportunity to spread awareness of the work Dr. Johnson and his friend, Dr. Eaton, did. I also want to help raise money for the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation so we can preserve this historic landmark, which will help people learn more about the history of African Americans in tennis.”

The Howard rising sophomore set out to finish reading 1,000 pages and to raise at least $1,000. She read over 1,801 pages and raised $3,314, nearly doubling the amount of pages and more than tripling the amount of money that she set out to raise.

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She learned as much as she could about Dr. Johnson and reached out his grandson, Lange Johnson, who runs the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation. Chau began the reading challenge last August and completed it within a year — heading to a tennis party, distributing pamphlets about her cause and doing community service at a local elementary school, discussing Dr. Johnson’s legacy.

“I’ve been playing tennis my whole life — since I was five and now I’m 15,” Chau said. “So, tennis has always been a big part of my life and I’m always doing the most that I can to help out with anything, especially with tennis parties. I was in the ATA [American Tennis Association] National Tournament in 2017 and I was a finalist that year and we watched a documentary on Althea Gibson and that’s when I learned about Dr. ‘Whirlwind’ Johnson.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic becoming widespread in March, Chau found extra time to finish the reading challenge with the cancellation of in-person classes. She began to read more and sent out letters to receive donations, contacting others to spread the message of her cause.

“The pandemic really helped me focus on this,” Chau said. “I think that’s really helped me to raise so much money and [with] how much I read.”

Chau finally played on the Dr. Johnson’s tennis courts in Lynchburg on Tuesday, fulfilling a dream since the day that she set out to raise awareness of the late Tennis Hall of Famer’s legacy.

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