By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs’ first Junior International Tennis Invitational (JITI) will serve up a Parade of Nations as its opening set Oct. 19 — a reflection, festival organizers say, of the international character of Sandy Springs.

The parade will start at 3:30 p.m. on Mount Vernon Highway at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church and will run along the highway to Johnson Ferry Road and Sandy Springs Circle before ending on the lawn by the Williams-Payne House for a 6 p.m. barbecue dinner.

The JITI tournament, planned as an annual event, will feature 48 children ages 14 and younger from Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Serbia, Russia, Canada and the United States.

“We have such wonderful diversity in the tournament … that mirrors the cultural vibrancy that we find in the city of Sandy Springs,” said Vicki Willard, who is organizing the parade.

The players are some of the best in their countries, said Art Schultz, a tournament coordinator working through Sandy Springs Hospitality and Tourism.

“We wanted to bring the best of the world into the city prior to their turning professional,” he said.

A friendship tournament held Oct. 20 and 21 will give children an opportunity to play against the visitors and possibly develop “a long-lasting friendship between the children of the world and the children of Sandy Springs.”

“Keep in mind, (local children) are going to get beat. And they’re going to get beat bad because these kids are really good. But it’s an opportunity for them to play against somebody really good,” Schultz said.

The competitive tournament will be played from Oct. 22 to 25 and will conclude with a banquet and awards dinner. It will be a round-robin tournament: Each team will play every other team, and the team with the best record wins.

Money raised through sponsorships will benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), including research for its Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service and equipment for a new play area in the inpatient center with video and computer games.

“Having a playroom like this really does help with the mental well-being of these kids because they have the opportunity to be just kids for a little while and just play games,” said Suzy Scheiblin, a CHOA program coordinator.

Admission to the tournament is free, but the Oct. 19 barbecue dinner costs $5.

Schultz said the international players who were invited are “the very best that their countries have to offer.”

“We know that based on the events that they have won. All these children are on the professional track,” he said. “We’re trying to encourage children to get into the game of tennis — the sport of tennis — and we’re encouraging a healthy lifestyle.”