Special guests announced for Merrill Champions for Children Gala

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The MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation is hosting its annual Merrill Champions for Children Gala at the Florida Blue Campus in Jacksonville Sept. 29.

A tennis event will take place the following morning Sept. 30 at San Jose Country Club.

The event will include messages from founder MaliVai Washington, the foundation’s student-athlete of the year, testimonials from students and alumni and a silent and live auction.

Two special guests have been confirmed to participate with Bryan Shelton being the guest speaker and Lindsey Davenport.

Shelton is the head men’s tennis coach at the University of Florida and a former professional tennis player.

He played collegiately at Georgia Tech and then played eight years on the men’s professional tour, winning two singles titles and reaching the finals of the French Open Mixed Doubles competition.

After retiring from the tour, Shelton became a USTA national coach and coached MWYF founder MaliVai Washington.

He subsequently returned to Georgia Tech to coach the women’s tennis team and became the first head coach in Division 1 college tennis to win a women’s national title (2007 at Georgia Tech) and a men’s national championship with Florida in 2021.

Tennis is a tradition in the Shelton family, as his son Ben recently won the NCAA Division 1 Singles Championship for Florida.

Davenport will serve as a special guest for this year’s gala.

She was ranked No. 1 in the world for a total of 98 weeks, joining Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams as the only women who have been yearend world #1 singles at least four times.

Davenport also held the world No. 1 doubles rank for a total of 32 weeks, in addition to winning the Australian and U.S. Open’s and Wimbledon, as well as bringing home the Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics.

Previous events have raised more than $250,000, with funds going to support the foundation’s programming and activities during the summer and the following school year.

The MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation is an afterschool and summer youth development program in Jacksonville’s urban core that promotes academic achievement and positive life skills.

The mission is to develop champions in classrooms, on tennis courts and throughout the community by having young people participate in programs with the resources they need to rise to their full potential and become contributing members of society. To learn more, go to malwashington.com or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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