April 4th, 2014

Miami Tennis Fest Auctions Pros for JCC Scholarships for Kids


JCCThe Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach just celebrated its 20th annual Pro-Am Tennis Fest, this time raising between $30,000 and $40,000 for charity. According to Tournament Director Gabriela Berenstein, the monies collected go to funding scholarships for approximately 20 kids (10 underprivileged and 10 special needs) to participate in the JCC’s summer camp.

Gabriela, who’s in her 16th consecutive year chairing the tournament, said that 90 percent of the money contributed goes directly into the scholarship fund, as all the alcohol at the pre-event cocktail party is donated, as is much of the food. Tournament sponsors included Wells Fargo, Expedia, BB&T bank, and BLU Products, among others. The cocktail party’s high spirits always get lighter once the laugh-a-minute auction gets underway. A fest itself, it was led by NBC-6 Reporter Ari Odzer, former Peruvian tennis star Alberto Franco, and Dr. Rick Mars, a natural-born funnyman, who’s also the dentist of Donnna Tollefsen, the JCC’s tennis director.

The March 16 event featured 20 amateur male players (10 A-level and 10 B-level), who “buy,” via the auction, 20 male pro players in the one-day charity tournament. Pros included Van Winitsky, who, in 1984, rose to a world doubles ranking of No. 7 and a singles ranking of 35; Rick Fagel, a former tour player who beat John McEnroe in 1977; and Chris Kwon, currently ranked No. 447 in the world. The “A” winner was Diego Misrahi (with Ross Dubins); the “B” winner was Leo Peicher (with Juan Bravo).

Auction prices usually go for between $700 and $800. Next year, plans are to expand the event to include women — eight of them to be precise — while trimming the males to 16. The 20 percent increase in the number of competitors figures to significantly raise charitable contributions, as well.

A number of children who’ve benefitted from the scholarship in the past have gone on to become top tennis players in their own right. Gabriela Paz rose to No. 10 in the world in juniors, and was a juniors finalist at the 2008 US Open. Nathan Rosenfeld is now a pro, and was auctioned off in the tourney.

Gabriela said that the JCC, ever charitable in its philosophy, also runs an October tournament to benefit the Susan B. Komen breast cancer organization.