Opening Ceremonies and Military Night open main draw

By: Dylan Rice/ BB&T Atlanta Open

The BB&T Atlanta Open celebrated its first day of main draw matches by honoring those who serve our country with Opening Ceremonies & Military Appreciation Night.

The evening was filled with memorable moments for all involved, as service members and veterans were commemorated throughout the event.

EF9G3726Dale Beatty (center) participated in the coin toss before Monday night's featured match between Donald Young (left) and Dudi Sela (right). (Bill Kallenberg/BB&T Atlanta Open)

Thorlos, a padded sock company and tournament partner, was on site all day to give away pairs of its product in exchange for $5 donations to Purple Heart Homes. Dale Beatty, an Iraq veteran and CNN “Hometown Hero,” founded Purple Heart Homes. The organization helps find and create homes for disabled veterans.

Beatty was on hand to watch some tennis, talk about his experiences and raise awareness for his organization, which is expanding its services to the Atlanta area.

“We were deployed for Iraq for ten months. I was injured there. Became a double amputee below the knees. Moved back home to Statesville, North Carolina. My community really rallied around me to help build my house,” Beatty said. “The experience for me and my community was so profound that we created Purple Heart Homes to replicate that for other veterans all across the country.”

While in Iraq, Beatty, a fan of the Thorlos product, which is based in his hometown, developed a relationship with the company and even had them send socks overseas.

After he returned home to undertake his next endeavor, Purple Heart Homes, Thorlos was more than happy to continue to help its hometown hero.

During Military Appreciation Night, as the sun began to set, the Ft. Benning Rock Army Band kicked off the evening’s festivities as it tore through a high-energy set of classic rock hits.

The rock band is a four-member subset of Ft. Benning’s 44-member Maneuver Center of Excellence Band, with a specialization in blues and rock from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“We had a great time,” guitarist Jaison Wynne said. “I used to play tennis when I was really young, and my dad used to play a lot of tennis professionally. And so it’s really cool to be out here and play music at a tennis tournament.”

The opening ceremony then began with the presentation of colors by the Georgia State Defense Force 1st Brigade Color Guard.

The presentation was followed by a powerful rendition of the National Anthem, sung by recording artist Elle Graham, complete with a fireworks finale.

Graham was honored to be a part of Military Appreciation Night. “As someone who had a grandfather in the Vietnam War, who got two Purple Hearts, it was a special moment for me to stand on a tennis court and sing,” Graham said. “I’ve been playing tennis my whole life so it was really special to appreciate him and honor him and simultaneously honor a childhood activity I grew up with.”

The ceremony then concluded with an honorary coin toss by Beatty, who enjoyed the entire night’s activities.

“We’re just here enjoying a great event,” said Beatty. “Watched a great tennis match earlier. And just glad to be here to spread awareness about what we’re doing.”