Mike Bryan was standing where he and brother Bob had helped Ryan Wolfington and Marty Hennessy start a foundation 16 years ago to help at-risk youngsters with life and entrepreneurial skills. And to assist with their tennis backhands, if needed.
The green clay courts at Stirling Club at Turnberry Place were shrouded in welcome shade thanks to the monolithic parking garage at unfinished Fontainebleu. Bryan, half of the most accomplished doubles team in men’s tennis history, invited those participating in a fundraising clinic to Saturday’s World TeamTennis match pitting the Vegas Rollers against San Diego.
No, somebody said. Not San Diego. Springfield — the defending WTT champion Springfield Lasers.
Bryan corrected himself. He said the Rollers would be playing Springfield at 7 p.m.
No, he was told again — 4 p.m. Not 7.
Mike Bryan’s mind wasn’t focused on World TeamTennis at that moment. But five years ago when it mattered most to one of the Las Vegas tennis kids, his heart and brother Bob’s were in the right place when what seemed a small act of kindness provided soul-healing light.
“They literally helped save my life,” said a young girl wearing a navy Team Bryan blazer.
Cherrial Odell was beaming. It was a far cry from when she was coiled in a fetal position in a mental hospital with suicidal thoughts and tendencies. She had blamed herself for her father’s alcoholism and her family’s financial plight and sank into a deep depression.
“Her father came out and said, ‘You go talk to her.’ So I knew it was bad,” Wolfington said.
“She was nonresponsive.”
Wolfington brought video greetings from the Bryan brothers and Adam Sandler and Kevin James — his brother, Sean, had a working relationship with the actors.
“Hey Cherrial, how are you doing, we’re rooting for you,” Wolfington said of what Sadler and James, two of her favorite actors, said on the messages. The musically inclined Bryan brothers wrote her a song at the Australian Open.
“When I played those videos, she went from misery to smiling.”
“They see the kids multiple times a year,” Wolfington said of the Bryans’ generosity and humanity. “They text them, they call them. There’s no greater high in life than to invest in a human life. Bob and Mike Bryan know that, Jewell (the singer also became involved through her Never Broken program) knows that, I know that. That is why we do it.”
After the clinic, the brothers postponed taking a shower to talk about the courage of Cherrial Odell and her remarkable turnaround.
“Her story is a really special part of our life,” Bob said. “We helped her out of a dark time, at least a small part of it. To see her flourish in this program under Ryan Wolfington is amazing.”
Added twin brother Mike: “With Cherrial, she was at the low of lows. She almost took her life, and Bob wrote her a song. We left a couple of video messages for her and it made a difference. She turned it around full circle.”
Cherrial Odell still gets emotional when she talks about the Bryan brothers and the others who provided an emotional life preserver during her darkest hour.
“To have someone so successful be so kind, so caring and so loving and generous — I don’t get to spend a lot of time with them, but the impact on my life has been second to none,” she said. “Watching those videos in the hospital, for me that was a spark for change.”
She said she stopped feeling responsible for others and what troubled them. When her father died in 2017, she did not blame herself.
The change was dramatic.
Cherrial Odell recently was admitted to Stanford —- the same school for which the Bryans played on their way to becoming pro tennis superstars.
“When we got the news that she had been admitted, we both shed a tear,” Bob Bryan said.
On Sunday afternoon, the brothers lost in a tiebreaker to counterparts representing Philadelphia. The result momentarily quieted bushy-haired Rollers assistant coach/cheerleader Redfoo and an energized crowd at Orleans Arena during a match the visitors would win.
But it wasn’t Wimbledon or Roland Garros or even the defending WTT champion Springfield Lasers, who were in San Diego playing the … um, Aviators. Sometimes when it comes to the first to win five games in no-ad set tennis, perspective is called for.
Making a difference
The Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation and Team Bryan program is the official charity of the World TeamTennis’ Vegas Rollers. The foundation has helped more than 120 at-risk youngsters receive scholarships to schools such as Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Brown, Stanford, Vanderbilt and the U.S. Naval and Air Force academies.
For more information: www.inspiringchildren.net.