Dick and Liz Stockton started the Blue Sky Foundation with one goal in mind — to thank our troops through tennis. A former world-ranked tennis player, Dick has always wanted to raise awareness for the sport, especially within the military community.
Five and a half years ago, the Stocktons started the Blue Sky Foundation in hopes of opening tennis clinics across the country at military installations.
The clinics, called Thanking Our Troops through Tennis, or T3, were to include visits by tennis legends and lessons from certified teaching professionals who would offer expertise to Soldiers and their Families. However, with a fizzling economy and lack of sponsors, the T3 clinics never really took off and the Stocktons were left wondering if their dream would ever become reality.
Last Christmas Liz’s brother, Col. Frank DeCarvalho, suggested the Stocktons bring T3 to Fort Bragg. With overwhelming support from Fort Bragg, tennis professionals from across the nation eagerly donated their time to the clinic and on July 2, Dick and Liz hosted their first trial clinic at Ritz-Epps Physical Fitness Center.
“I am very excited to . . . hold our first ever event at Fort Bragg,” said Dick. “We appreciate what Soldiers and Families do and sacrifice. We want to thank them with a nice relaxing day of tennis and show them that it’s a game you can play no matter how young or old you are.”
The clinic featured separate sessions for children and adults, with the children playing for a few hours in the morning and the adults playing in the afternoon. One-on-one coaching was available for all attendees and to lighten things up, the Stocktons included drawings every hour, giving away prizes such as tennis racquets and special order tennis shoes.
Despite pouring rain, the event was well attended by more than 170 Soldiers and their Families. The USO and volunteers from across Fort Bragg provided lunch and coordination for the event.
Matt Salt from Hayes Group, the foundation’s logistics and fundraising group, said he thought the T3 clinics were a great idea.
“Getting out to the troops is not something you get to do often as a civilian. I think the clinics give us a chance to do that,” he said. “Besides, all the kids here love tennis.”
The children who attended the event certainly agreed.
Sadie Kate Ball, 8, couldn’t stay away from the courts for longer than five minutes.
“I’ve never played tennis before but I love it. My favorite part was when everyone got to run around and dump balls into the boxes,” she said, in reference to the relay races.
But the event did not just thrill the youngsters. It was also a wonderful experience for the adults who attended.
James Benson, an active-duty Soldier who is soon retiring, had played relatively little tennis before the clinic. “This is my first lesson,” he said. “But now I’m ready to go for another lesson . . . since I’m retiring, I’m definitely going to play more.”
Benson also thought the tennis clinics were a great idea. “What a great way to learn about a sport you don’t hear a lot about as a Soldier.”