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Thursday, July 3, 2008 08:54 pm

Cap City

Honoring Springfield’s first family of tennis, plus walking and biking to make a better world

Untitled Document BREAKING TO LOVE
When someone suggested to Grace Nanavati that Washington Park’s tennis courts be renamed in honor of Manny Velasco, the Springfield Park District’s director of racquet sports, Nanavati exclaimed, “By Joe, why haven’t we thought of that sooner?” After all, Velasco was a six-time junior champ in his native Bolivia. participated in the 1962 U.S. Open, and taught tennis at several area high schools and colleges, including the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he has coached the team to 14 national tournaments. At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, July 5, in a ceremony on Court 7 in Washington Park, representatives of the park district, the Springfield Parks Foundation, and the Velasco Tennis Committee will dedicate the tennis courts to Velasco, and his wife, assistant tennis-programs manager, Blanca Maria Velasco (consider it a doubles event). In case of inclement weather, the reception will be held in the pavilion. “So many people have been impacted and empowered by the Velascos in such a positive way that this is an event that was waiting to happen,” Nanavati says.
Sky-high gas prices aren’t the only reason our state’s sidewalks seem more crowded this summer. Apparently July is also the chosen month for Illinois citizens to ambulate in support of various charitable and social causes. Next Thursday, July 10, the Rev. Dr. Lee E. Fields Jr., pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Springfield, and his daughter Jasmine Fields will begin a 100-mile trek, starting in St. Louis and concluding in Springfield on Sunday morning — just in time for church services. The Fields’ hike will raise funds for a school that the church, in conjunction with the National Baptist Convention of America, is helping build in Ghana. Supporters can make per-mile donations by contacting Pleasant Grove at 217-522-2513. In September, Fields will travel to Africa for the school’s ribbon-cutting, although, church secretary Sonia Echols tells Cap City, “We’re going to fly him out on this one.”
Then, on July 12, peace-and-justice activists depart from Chicago for a 400-mile, month-and-a-half-long slog to St. Paul, Minn. — the site of this year’s Republican National Convention, which commences on Sept. 1. Led by Voices for Creative Nonviolence, which organized a Walk for Justice from Springfield to the Windy City in 2006, marchers will stop in several communities to hold vigils and town-hall meetings, says Dan Pearson, a co-coordinator for the group: “We see it as an opportunity to do some outreach and education along the way.”

MASS APPEAL With 16 participants on Friday, Springfield’s first mass-bicycling event in more than five years might better be described as “serious but stable” rather than “critical.” However, Critical Mass organizer Alex Patia says he plans to work to enlarge the group over the next few months. Critical Mass rides, although often characterized as acts of social protest, have no stated political or social objectives or leadership. They are held on the last Friday of each month in cities worldwide. Patia, 19, attends college in Washington but grew up in Springfield. He says that before he leaves for school he would like Critical Massers to address the City Council and ask the city leaders to make Springfield more amenable to commuter biking — for instance, by installing bicycle lanes on some streets. “Recreation-wise, Springfield is really good, but bicycling as a mode of commuting around town, it’s pretty bicycle unfriendly,” Patia says. “On most of the major roadways, you’re be taking a pretty big risk.”
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