Daniel Whitlow, 11, who had never held a tennis racket or tennis ball until this summer, stood in a blazing sun last week fumbling with both.
He became interested in tennis because new courts were recently built two blocks from his home at Mississippi Avenue and Wheeler Road SE.
"We never had tennis courts around our way before . . . now I come out every day and I'm getting better and better," he said, raising his racket high in the air and demonstrating a serve. "I need to work on my backhand and my serves -- but that will come in time."
Tennis has traditionally been viewed as the sport of the upper class, but in the past few years three organizations, the National Junior Tennis League, the D.C. Department of Recreation and the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation (WATPF), have put together a summer recreational team tennis program to introduce the game to inner-city children.
A lack of black tennis players, courts and equipment have traditionally kept many black children from the sport, said tennis instructor Joe Price.
"There were no black role models for them to look up to, there were no tennis courts in their neighborhoods, and no one was around to give them the encouragement and the instructions . . . . Those are the things that make the difference," said Price, who has played tennis for more than 30 years.
"But that has changed. We have Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison as role models. We have new courts being built in poor neighborhoods, and we go to their schools and show them films about tennis," he said. "And most importantly we have good programs to introduce the sport to them . . . with a little determination and lots of encouragement these kids can go far."
Dwight Mosley, executive director of WATPF, agreed. "D.C. has a reputation of being a black town and all I've been hearing is that these kids don't have the interest in tennis," he said. "But if you provide a well-structured program, then kids will respond to it."
A variety of tennis programs for District children have existed for more than a decade, Mosley said, but the programs have been "much more successful in the past two years" because of the joint effort of the city and the private groups.
The NJTL provides professional instructors, the city recreation department maintains the tennis courts and WATPF provides $40,000 for staff and equipment.
This partnership now operates tennis programs at 20 recreation centers for children aged 8 to 18.
Before the public-private effort began two summers ago, some of the instructors said there was a lack of organization.
"We were turning over a lump sum of money to the NJTL and they were running the program by themselves," said Harriet Novar, program coordinator for WATPF. "But we discovered they weren't operating on as many sites as they said and fewer children were involved."
Some obstacles remain for the young players. For example, at Rosedale Recreation Center, 17th and Gales Streets NE, the players usually have to sweep broken glass and trash from the courts before they can play.
"These aren't the greatest courts around," said Rodney Johnson, 15, pointing to pieces of glass and trash that littered the courts.
Instructor Tyron Thomas said, "There are no lights on the courts. We have to pick up glass every day and yesterday there was so much trash on the courts we spent most of the time just sweeping."
But Fitimiah Davis, 14, said the job of cleaning up the courts does not bother her.
"When I was little I would watch people play and it looked like so much fun," she said as she ran her fingers across her new racket, "but I never saw any black people play and I never thought that I would play either."