Tennis star boosts breakfast at area school

By Jodie Wagner
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

During the height of her professional sports career in the late 1990s, Anna Kournikova had one of the most recognizable faces in women's tennis.

Today, the 25-year-old Miami resident and two-time Australian Open doubles champion is noted more for her work with children than she is for her powerful ground strokes.

Kournikova, who retired from professional tennis in 2004, works with a variety of charities.

Most, like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, focus on children.

"I'm really passionate about kids," she said. "That's my priority. That's the focus of the charity work that I do."

Recently, she has turned her attention toward the "got breakfast?" Foundation, and made her first appearance for the foundation in North Palm Beach.

Now in its second year, "got breakfast?" helps millions of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school breakfasts.

According to the foundation, 30 million children who attend public school in the United States participate in the National School Lunch Program. Yet, only 9.6 million of those kids also eat breakfast in school, despite the availability of federal money for them to do so.

The "got breakfast?" Foundation, which is made up of a coalition of public officials, community leaders, private organizations and personalities from around the country, is committed to making it easier for students who qualify for the National School Breakfast Program to receive breakfast in school.

Studies have shown that eating breakfast in school helps children improve their health and well-being and score better on tests.

"The funds are available," said Gary Davis, a "got breakfast?" partner and chief executive officer of New York-based East Side Entrees, which makes boxed breakfasts.

"There's just creating the motivation in the community, getting the principals, getting the administrators, getting the parents, getting the children involved, getting the message out there to participate."

Kournikova, he hopes, will play a big role in that.

The foundation approached her last year about joining its efforts to improve student health through participation in the National School Breakfast Program.

Kournikova, a native of Moscow, accepted immediately.

"I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to give my input and to help out and really be involved," she said. "It's very important for children to be nutritionally educated. Sports and nutrition go hand-in-hand. It's all connected. It's really important. The more educated and the more attention we bring to kids and their nutrition, the more likely they'll grow up much healthier and smarter and happier."

Kournikova made her first appearance on behalf of "got breakfast?" on Jan. 16 at North Palm Beach Elementary School.

Kournikova, who made her professional tennis debut at age 14, passed out cereal and juice boxes to fourth-grade students before presenting Principal Bill Thompson with a special "got breakfast?" award during a school assembly.

Thompson, a proponent of serving breakfast in the classrooms each morning, received special recognition from the "got breakfast?" Foundation for his commitment to improving student health by encouraging participation in the National School Breakfast Program.

"The principal has made all the difference," Davis said of Thompson.

"The school food-service department made it a priority to reach more children, but this particular principal made it his priority to provide breakfast in an alternate setting in the classroom. The numbers just went over the top when he did that."

Kournikova hopes they'll continue to rise as more educators, and parents, follow Thompson's lead.

"I just feel that everybody should get involved," she said.

"It's there, and we should just bring more attention to it. One of the most important things also is the parents, because at the end of the day, they have the most influence on the children.

"The schools and everybody around can try to do everything. But at the end of the day, it's up to the parents to really educate and push their kids and direct them toward the right thing."

Jodie Wagner is a sports writer for Neighborhood Post. She can be reached at (561) 820-4537. Faxes can be sent to (561) 837-8320.