Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Sun
Published Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009 | 1:30 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009 | 2:29 p.m.
They've shook hands with senators and former presidents, chatted with Fortune-500 CEOs and traveled to more than a dozen countries.
Along the way they've won major tennis tournaments, garnered top national rankings and attracted the attention of elite college recruiters.
Just don't try to get Kristofer, 15, and Kimberly, 12, Yee to brag about those experiences, because these humble champions have won sportsmanship awards too.
"We've done some awesome things, but winning isn't everything," said Kimberly, who holds a top-10 national ranking in both the 12 and 14-year-old age groups. "Winning is good, but it's not the main goal. The main goal is to play well. That's how you measure success. If you played your best or not."
Although the modest superstars might not focus on winning, they certainly have had no problem doing so.
While Kimberly won the singles and doubles titles at the U.S. National Championships last year to finish 2008 ranked No. 1 in the nation, her brother, Kristofer, collected enough hardware to land at No. 4 nationally.
Kimberly and Kristofer are also each considered the top college recruits in Nevada for their respective classes by tennisrecruiting.net. That same recruiting site ranks Kimberly second nationally for the class of 2015 and Kristofer 27th for the class of 2012.
"They have the potential, no doubt about it," said Adam Yee, Kimberly and Kristofer's father and coach, who started developing his kids as toddlers. "They were winning tennis tournaments before they were even 5-years-old. Now, it's a matter of work ethic and time. If you want a college scholarship you have to really work for it. Wanting something and putting in the work for it are two different things."
Thanks to the VegasTennis.com's Marty Hennessy Jr. Tennis Foundation, the Yee's desire to compete in college or even professionally has a solid shot of becoming reality.
Co-founded by Hennessy and current USTA-Nevada Executive Director Ryan Wolfington six years ago as a way to help at-risk children through the game of tennis, the Foundation has already helped 19 Las Vegas athletes earn college scholarships.
"Before the Foundation came alone, there was nothing," Kristofer said. "Everyone was just on their own. There was no tennis community. Nobody was winning or getting scholarship offers. Ryan really saw the potential in a lot of kids who might not have had the money to reach a high level in tennis and he brought them in and changed what Las Vegas tennis really is."
In addition to on-court instruction, the Hennessy Foundation sets up academic tutoring, peer mentoring, college and leadership seminars as well as financial assistance with tournament and traveling costs.
The Yees, who attend Odyssey Charter School while practicing tennis more than 20 hours a week, are direct by-products of the Hennessy Foundation on and off the court.
"It is a tremendous joy to see these children not only become No. 1 and No. 4 in the nation respectively, but to do so with straight A's and a humble, positive and hard working attitude," Wolfington said of Kimberly and Kristofer Yee. "Adam Yee is an amazing father and coach who built his children up from nothing to top players. While the Foundation helps financially, Adam gets the real credit for his children and many others that he coaches."
To help continue the legacy that the Hennessy Foundation has built in Las Vegas, the proceeds from Tony Bennett's 83rd birthday party and Big Heart Award's dinner at Tao on Thursday night will help support the Foundation. A portion of the event's proceeds will also go to other USTA-Nevada youth tennis programs.
The Yee family along with other Hennessy Foundation tennis coaches and players will volunteer at the event.
"What the Hennessy Foundation has done is huge," Adam Yee said. "The support they have is great and it's not just in tennis. I mean, nearly every single kid out here will earn a college scholarship because they get good grades and they work hard on the court. Las Vegas tennis isn't the low group at tournaments anymore. Now we're one of the best."
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].