Courting Kids to the Game of Tennis!
Seven-year-old Nyla stepped up the net, armed with a racket and fierce determination.
Volunteer Ana-lei Kalawe, a local tennis player and high school junior, tossed a ball in Nyla’s direction and the youngster power hit it back over the net.
“It felt good!” exclaimed Nyla, who served up a beaming smile and a double fist bump after making the shot. “I wanted to join the tennis Olympics!”
And that is exactly the type of reaction organizers of the “Tennis in the City” event on April 2 at the Jack Adams Tennis Center were hoping for. The program, a 15-year tradition, is held in conjunction with Volvo Car Open tournament week for inner city youth. It brings together WTA tennis players, local tennis pros, as well as high school and college teams to introduce the game of tennis to local kids.
SunTrust Bank is a sponsor of the popular event, which serves over 100 youth each year. SunTrust Vice President Omar Ramberan explained what he likes most about the program.
“It’s the kids,” he said. “And playing with the College of Charleston and also playing with the pros. Just seeing their faces light up and be able to hit around. It’s a great experience.”
Joining the festivities were Charleston City Councilmen James Lewis and Kevin Shealy.
“The best thing about it is we’ve got a lot of young people here who are willing to learn to play tennis…and that is great!” said Lewis.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to have a healthy experience,” added Shealy, referencing the program’s tie to the Volvo Car Open. “And it brings great things to our economy here in Charleston to have these events and I just appreciate all of the work that everybody has done.”
Before the kids were dispatched to the courts to play, a few local high school students who have taken part in the City of Charleston’s tennis programs shared their thoughts with participants on the benefits of the sport on their lives.
“Tennis is a great sport because it helps you with your tennis etiquette and it helps you become a better person because you know good sportsmanship and how to be kind to other people,” said Mathew Ogiba. “And you make a lot of new friends!” said Lewis.
“Tennis has pretty much taught me how to be independent,” added Ana-lei Kalawe. “And that it doesn’t really matter what people think. I am really grateful to have found tennis and I am glad it’s part of my life.”
“I’ve been playing tennis for about 11 years,” said Tyzell Richardson. “Tennis has done a lot of great things for me – I got a free trip to Winston-Salem for the Arthur Ashe essay competition…And I get to hit with a few professional tennis players at the Volvo Car Open. I love playing tennis!”
Professional players Nicole Melichar and Kayla Day, who are both taking part in this year’s VCO action, were also on hand to work with youth during the event.
“I think it’s really good to get all the kids out here, whether they pursue tennis or not,” said Melichar. “It’s great to just have them exercising and staying in sports, being healthy…I find that when kids do sports they seem to tend to stay more focused on what’s important. I think it just sets up a really good foundation for life – just wanting to be outside, be with other people, meeting people, and I think you’re gonna find some really cool friends through sports.”
“I think it’s so fun,” added Day. “It’s a great thing for the community to be able to do these types of events. It gets the kids on the tennis courts, which is always good!”
During the drills, which were broken down by age group, Melichar, Day and other volunteers worked with kids on their shots.
“Drop that racket head!” shouted an enthusiastic Hollie Connolly, a Charleston Tennis Center coach, as she helped a group of elementary school students. “There you go!”
And the youngsters moved in formation through a line to the net.
“Good one!” said Connolly, after a little girl named Molly returned a shot.
In the end, the participants seemed pumped for more – a definite “mission accomplished” for organizers.
“I liked it,” said Virginia, 6. “I liked hitting the ball!”
“The best part is that it’s not too intense,” added Kevaughn Williams, 13. “It’s not serious, just having a good time.”
“It’s pretty fun,” noted Lauryn Clark, 15.
But for Nyla, it might just turn out to be a little bit more.
“I sort of got a good feeling about it!”