Straight-Ace students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 May, 2007, 12:00am

Until recently, the only passport for teens hoping to get into one of the eight prestigious Ivy League universities in the US was a straight-A report card.

But now, students who excel at non-academic pursuits have higher chances than ever of earning a place.

Geraldine Leong Kwan-ning and Darren Ng Doi-luen have that extra something. They are up-and-coming tennis stars - the number one players in Hong Kong's under-16 division.

And their skill may well be the key to a sports grant at one of four Ivy League schools.

'Right now, they're the best [in Hong Kong] in the 16-and-under category,' says Hong Kong International Tennis Academy director, Benny Lin.

Mr Lin was head coach at the Hong Kong Tennis Association for five years until recently opening the Academy.

He helped the pair catch the eyes of coaches at Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth earlier this year when he sent them videos of Geraldine and Darren sweating it out on the court, along with their CVs.

'I knew their tennis levels were good enough, but no one knows who Geraldine and Darren are. So we decided to shoot a video and send it over with their CV,' the 35-year-old said.

The CV consists of tournament results, achievements, rankings and school grades. All four schools responded enthusiastically to the teens' performance.

'Tennis provides another channel for students to get into Ivy League schools. It is one of the best sports for Asians to compete in,' said Lin.

'It is much harder for Asians to compete in other sports such as basketball or football because of our height and build.

'For Hong Kong youngsters to play professionally is very difficult. They can't give up school to be a professional player, because that would be too big a gamble. To do that you need to be in the top 200 in the world. But there are tens of thousands of scholarships in the States - that's much more accessible.'

This summer, Geraldine and Darren will meet the head coaches at the four schools in the hopes of receiving tennis grants in 2009. If they have time, they will also visit top non-Ivy League schools, such as Boston College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

'All recruitment is done six to 12 months in advance. If they invite you to go, then there's a very big chance you'll get in,' said Lin.

'When I received the head coaches' replies, it was really overwhelming. We thought: we really have to go there now. Now is the time to get known and make sure you're on their list.'

Geraldine, a Form Four student at Diocesan Girls' School, has been playing the sport for six years.

When asked about her impending trip to the US, she said: 'I'm not sure whether I'll definitely get into an Ivy League school, but I have confidence in my tennis and academic grades.'

Darren, a student at South Island School, seems to have his sights set on Cornell.

'My dad wants me to go there. I want to study economics or business management. I also want to be a pilot,' said the 15-year-old.

'My chances of getting in are quite high. I'm quite confident.'