Tennis Lessons: Longines Helps Agassi Serve

Today, Andre Agassi is renowned as one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the global sport. Tomorrow, he may be better known as an education reformer. And Swiss watch brand Longines is helping him.

Agassi is ranked with the top tennis players of all time. His triumphs include winning the men’s singles title in all four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, U.S. Open, and Wimbledon); winning eight Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal, and the Tennis Masters Cup; being on a winning Davis Cup team; and winning 17 ATP Master Series tournaments, more than any other player.

Since retiring in 2006, the 38-year-old tennis icon has focused on his Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, founded in 1994 to improve the lives of underprivileged, abused, and abandoned children, mainly in the Las Vegas area. It’s raised $72 million and helped 180,000 youngsters with educational, recreational, and after-school programs that enhance character, self-esteem, and career possibilities. Foundation projects include the Andre Agassi Boys & Girls Club, helping thousands of kids year-round; support of Child Haven, a residential facility for abused and neglected children; and funding a facility for “medically fragile” children (developmentally delayed, handicapped, or with infectious diseases).

But the project with the most far-reaching effects, and probably closest to Agassi’s heart, is the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a $40 million school in Las Vegas, Agassi’s hometown. “We realized early on [as a foundation] that the earlier we get to kids, the better we can affect the course of their lives,” Agassi told JCK. “And nothing does that more than the best possible education.”

The tuition-free, award-winning charter school (one of America’s best, says Uncle Sam) opened in 2001 in west Las Vegas, the city’s poorest neighborhood, and gradually added grade levels. It now has over 600 students in K-12 and will graduate its first senior class in 2009. Most students (77 percent) live within two miles of the school.

Meanwhile, Longines, which launched its sport watch collection in 2007, sought “the right name and face” to promote the collection as its worldwide Ambassador of Elegance, says Jennifer Judkins, U.S. brand manager.

Longines contacted Agassi to see if he was willing. “We went to Las Vegas, toured the academy, and were very impressed,” says Judkins. “What it’s doing is inspiring, and something we could support.”

Agassi agreed and signed a four-year contract as a Longines international ambassador. “Longines has shown tremendous support for my foundation and commitment to this vision, and I’m grateful for all their endeavors,” he says. Serving as the company’s ambassador, he told JCK, is one more way to build awareness of underprivileged children’s educational needs, and the Agassi Academy specifically, which is “crucial to these kids’ future, to give them the tools and skills to succeed in life.”

The Agassi Academy isn’t just another school. A goal of the Agassi Foundation is to “transform U.S. public education for under-served youth.” The school is like an academic laboratory, with programs that build character, motivation, and self-discipline; improve educational skills (students read, write, and do math above their grade levels); and create what Agassi calls a climate of hope for the children and the community.

The school, using top-notch educators, administrators, and staff, has smaller classes (25 pupils), longer school days (eight hours vs. six), and a longer academic year (10 more days) than public schools. About 85 percent of students stay an extra hour or two each day for extracurricular activities such as athletics, elective classes, and tutoring. As a result, AACPA graduates have the equivalent of four extra years of schooling.

All classrooms have the latest computer technology, including wireless laptops for class projects; presentation equipment, like touch-screen “smart boards”; and high-speed Internet access (with teacher supervision and filters against unsuitable material). Using state-of-the-art technology boosts students’ critical thinking skills and career opportunities, say academy officials.

Even the school’s architecture contributes to student motivation. One building’s windows, for example, are configured to resemble the Big Dipper, to remind students of slaves who followed the North Star to freedom and to inspire them to stay on their path to success. Inspiration Hall has photos and motivational sayings of famous people, and Bridge Walk may be crossed only by graduating seniors—with the whole school watching from below.

Longines began supporting the Agassi Foundation in October 2007 at the foundation’s annual Grand Slam for Children fund-raiser in Las Vegas. In May of 2008 Longines unveiled its stylish limited-edition automatic Andre Agassi GrandeVitesse chronograph, created exclusively for the U.S. market. It “exhibits the sophistication and elegance of Agassi, while bringing close attention to the incredible work he does through his foundation,” says Judkins.

To commemorate the eight Grand Slams won by Agassi, there are 888 watches and “8” is highlighted in gold on the dial, though that also “commemorates his heart of gold in his dedication to children,” says Judkins. Each watch is numbered and has a Valjoux 7750 movement, caseback with foundation logo, and Mach 2 tachymeter.

A press conference was followed by a party cohosted by Longines and Agassi for 150 VIP guests, mostly Longines retailers. Other events included school tours led by AACPA students, tennis demonstrations by Agassi, and an auction of select numbered watches in the series with proceeds going to the foundation. (Longines also is creating several individual watches for foundation fund-raisers and gala auctions.)

Longines’s support continued Sept. 4, 2008, with a press conference, cocktail reception, and VIP dinner (all with Agassi) at the Tourneau TimeMachine store in New York City to introduce the Longines Scholarship Fund for AACPA graduates. The company endowed the scholarship with $200,000, and the academy controls its distribution to qualified students. “We support the foundation in various ways but decided this was the best place to put our money for the school and its students,” says Longines spokeswoman Denise Carballo.

Longines, founded in 1832, belongs to the Swatch Group. For information about the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, visit www.agassiprep.org. For information about the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, visit www.agassifoundation.org.