D.C. Initiative to Introduce More Children to Tennis

Fresh from Wimbledon, tennis star Venus Williams gives a group of District children a few lessons in downtown Washington as part of the Washington Kastles tennis program. Video by Hamil Harris, Edited by Ashley Barnas/The Washington Post
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is expected to announce today a citywide initiative to bring about a tenfold increase in the number of children enrolled in tennis programs.

Through a partnership of the District's Department of Parks and Recreation and a number of nonprofit groups, including the United States Tennis Association, the city is kicking off the QuickStart Tennis program, which was developed to help children learn the game.

There are several hundred youths enrolled in city-run tennis programs at five locations, said parks department spokesman John Stokes. On Monday, that number is expected to jump to between 3,000 and 4,000 as children enrolled in the city's summer Camp Discovery will be provided with tennis equipment and instruction through donations from the USTA. The tennis instruction will be in addition to arts, crafts, swimming and other activities.

"In the past, we have not really had a real program to teach our youth tennis across the city," said Ximena Hartsock, acting director of the parks department. But through "strategic partnerships" that Fenty formed with the professional tennis community, Hartsock said, youths ages 6 to 13 enrolled in Camp Discovery will be eligible for 45-minute daily lessons until Aug. 21.

In a statement, Fenty (D) said the program "reflects the District's commitment to playing a proactive role in our children's health and growing the game of tennis in the District. Not only is tennis one of the fastest growing sports in the country, it is a complete sport, one that builds great benefits for its players -- physically, mentally, and emotionally."

Parks officials said many of the programs will be in areas where tennis has not been available. But because of portable courts, nets and other equipment provided by the USTA, the city will be able to set up mobile sites.

Children will receive instruction from players affiliated with the Washington Kastles, a professional tennis team. About 80 randomly selected children will receive more extensive training through a program at the Banneker Community Center in Northwest Washington, said Jack Schore, head coach of A-Team Tennis and Learning. Schore, who has trained a number of tennis players, said, "Our goal is to generate a large number of young players in the Washington, D.C., area and grow participation."

On Monday, dozens of young people received pointers from tennis champion Venus Williams at the Kastles' new stadium at 11th and H streets NW. Camille Hyde, 15, got a chance to face off against Williams -- briefly. Williams gently volleyed a few balls toward Camille and a few other children. But when they forced Williams to hustle a little, the tennis star offered a little reality.

"Okay, can you tell them to get back? I don't want anybody to get hurt," said Williams, who stepped back to the service line and sent a tennis ball hurtling so fast that Camille didn't have a chance to raise her racket.

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