Ballou High School tennis coach Rudy Pearson thinks the secret to producing successful net squads in the D.C. high schools is to act more like a big brother than a tennis instructor.
It appears that Pearson, now in his fourth year at Ballou, has mastered the practical application of his theory.His team recently captured their third straight Interhigh tennis championship with a 5-2 decision over H.D. Woodson.
"The biggest job is keeping those kids happy and excited about what they're doing. That's 60 percent of the job," said Pearson, whose team went unbeaten in league play and compiled an overall 18-4 mark.
"We travel. We travel in my cars as if they were my kids," Pearson said. "We just do things together. It's just like a family."
Pearson said he has managed to maintain his enthusiasm for coaching despite a "lack of support" from the school system, which included the elimination of the tennis coaches' $650 per year stipend for the current season. The season will end Saturday with the Interhigh singles and doubles championships at the tennis stadium at 16th and Kennedy streets NW.
Pearson said all the money he was paid for coaching tennis was spent on improving the program. This year, with no stipend, $300 to $400 came out of his own pocket.
"It's not like I'm pushing out the money and not getting anything back," Pearson said. "I go on the trips . . . I have a good time. But when I started this I was single. I got married in the last year or so. It's changed my money flow. When I'm married, the money's got places to go.
"When I've got the money, I can do a lot of good things. That $650 that you used to get made things easy."
Despite the elimination of stipends, 11 public high schools still have tennis teams, onlyone less than the previous year. Pearson credits the decnaged to maintain his enthusiasm for coaching despite a "rease more to "a shifting of students," than the lack of pay for coaches.
Otto Jordan, athletic director for the D.C. public schools, said the remaining tennis coaches were too dedicated to drop their programs. "This is not an indication of volunteers. These are the same coaches who find it hard to let their team down," he said. "We're doing everything we can to keep the sport going until we find that relief. I guess that's not saying much."
However, Pearson, whose resources from the school include "a couple of cases of balls to last the season and money could be available if the city's priorities were changed.
It hasn't any prestige," Pearson said. "Tennis hasn't lost any of its enthusiasm among the students or the community. I know it's an economic issue. We know it's a question of money. Money is sifted around (in the school system budget). They find money for the things they want to."
Dennis Holland, a third-year starter, is one of three graduating seniors on the team who expect to receive college scholarships for their athletic prowess. He thinks the sport is a solid opportunity for many ghetto youths to attend college.
"They (the D.O. schools) really emphasize baseball, basketball and football," said Holland, of 1716 Frankford St. SE. "Tennis is a growing sport. They really should emphasize tennis along with the other sports. We need more black tennis players . They should put more money into it. There's a lot of youths in my neighborhood and they want to come play tennis in Ballou."
Pearson says there is no way he can handle the number of players who now come out for tennis at Ballou. However, he said he would be glad to spread the wealth by helping excess students transfer to other schools if there was sufficient money to run a more developed overall program throughout the city. "I've watched their (his players') growth, entering school, going to school and until they graduate. The character that results from going to other schools, being a winner, being successful. That's what it's all about. The growth is enough, the social development is substantial. That's why I can't justify not compensating people who give their time to the program."