The father of Brian Watkins, the Utah tourist slain in the subway last summer, said Monday his son's spirit would live on at a city park tennis court where youths will receive free lessons in his son's name.
"Brian loved kids. I think his spirit is here today," said Sherman Watkins, as about 20 children got their first lessons minutes after a ribbon cutting ceremony at The Brian Watkins Tennis Center.The 12 outdoor courts, in East River Park on Manhattan's Lower East Side, were refurbished with $1.7 million from the city and offer a scenic view of the river and Brooklyn.
The money to pay for tennis instructors for the children for six months a year for the next four years came largely from a $30,000 donation from an anonymous tennis buff who was moved by the Watkins' family tragedy.
The Provo family was in New York to watch the U.S. Open on Sept. 2 when they found themselves on a Manhattan subway platform facing a pack of young muggers.
After the youths struck Karen Watkins, Brian's mother, in the mouth and cut his father on the leg, Brian and his brother Todd attempted to intervene. Brian was stabbed in the heart and died hours later at a hospital.
At the park ceremony, professional tennis player Tim Mayotte, who learned to play tennis on public courts, said it was fitting that "tenniswill be played in the name of Brian here all summer long."
About 100 students a year will be able to benefit from the free lessons, said Debbie Landau, executive director of the City Parks Foundation.
Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger said she hoped that thousands of children "who come to play here will remember his life and his bravery."
"I know how proud Brian would be to see this," Karen Watkins said. "You don't know how much this means to us. We've had a real hard time the past few months in the death of our son, but things like this make it easier for us."
Karen Watkins, who said they had returned to New York five times since the killing, said she feels "a little nervous" in the city.