Coco’s Story is Serving as Encouragement to Local Girls
Until her grandmother dragged her to the Pompey Park gymnasium recently, Sheryl Malone knew very little about tennis superstar Cori “Coco” Gauff.
“I heard people talking about this young girl who played tennis, but I didn’t know anything more about her, … who she was or where she was from,” the Delray Beach teenager said after meeting the teen champ. “But after what I heard today, she is definitely a good role model and one day, I would like to be just like her.”
Malone,14, was among about 130 family, friends and fans who attended Gauff’s “Welcome home from Wimbledon” celebration inside the gym Saturday evening. The event, which was also attended by Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia, Deputy Vice Mayor Bill Bathurst, City Commissioner Ryan Boylston and Chief of Police Javaro Sims, was moved indoors at the last minute because of what Gauff’s aunt, Joi Odom, called “liquid sunshine.”
As I scanned the gymnasium, I counted less than 40 young girls under the age of 17. I think that gymnasium should have been packed considering what she represents to young people in her hometown.
“Coco is a huge role model for girls her age and younger. She is showing us girls that anything is possible if we put our minds to it,” said Asianna Livingston, 15, of Delray Beach. “My peers … wish they can be like her because she has accomplished so much at a young age, and the City of Delray Beach is really proud of her.”
While visiting Pompey Park recently, I noticed Gauff was speaking to her grandpa, Eddie “Red” Odom, via FaceTime from England.
He was telling her how proud he was after she began generating front-page stories and international buzz as the youngest competitor to qualify for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships since 1991.
Several kids were holding court around him and asking, “Is that the real Coco?”
(Coincidentally, the baseball fields at Pompey Park are named after Odom and are just feet away from the clay tennis courts where Gauff grew up training and the same courts where Venus and her sister Serena Williams spent their formative tween years practicing in the 1990s.)
It was then that it dawned on me that these kids, whom I am certain did not see the match, were witnessing a historic moment. Only days earlier, the 15-year-old had knocked off her longtime hero, Venus Williams, in the first round of Wimbledon, and then beat Magdalena Rybarikova in dominating fashion, before pulling off a comeback over Polona Hercog that will live on in Wimbledon lore.
Her victory thrust the country into Cocomania.
She became an inspiration to youths all over and urged them to give their best and never give up.
“To all the young girls and boys out there, you can do whatever you want as long as you work hard and stay dedicated. The road isn’t always easy,” Coco, who has absolutely nothing to lose and whose confidence is at an all-time high, told the crowd on Saturday. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, not even your parents. It’s ok to be crazy sometimes. Crazy is good.”
She added: “A lot of people may say I’m crazy for dreaming so big, but I think you shouldn’t just reach for the sky when you can reach for the stars. I think the possibilities are endless.”
She has learned not to let naysayers on social media affect her performance on the court. And even when she was down by two points, she remained focused and determined, thinking on the advice of the late football coach and principal C. Spencer Pompey, through her grandpa, “Never say die.”
I have had the privilege to see Coco off the court and away from the cameras and limelight and she is just like any other teen despite her tennis prowess.
In fact, when a reporter asked her how she plans to spend the nearly $200,000 in Wimbledon winnings, with the innocence of a child, she said, “I mean, I can’t buy a car because I don’t drive.”
She however said she may buy some hoodies.
As you listen to her, you will see that Coco is beyond the fame and gold medals. She is indeed a young woman who cares about all young girls and wants to see them succeed.
Her perseverance and positivity are exactly the kind of influence all parents should want in their daughter’s life.