Donation gives youth tennis program a boost
on November 9, 2011
Richmond resident Jeremy Wallace spent a large part of his childhood on the tennis courts at Nicholl Park. From age nine through his teenage years, Wallace showed up almost every day, ready to teach dozens of Richmond kids to play a sport that, historically, hasn’t played a large part in underserved communities.
By 13, Wallace was coaching the city’s summer tennis program. Throughout the years, he also coached more advanced kids, to whom he taught strategy and other skills they needed to compete in tournaments.
“I actually think that experience made me grow up faster,” he said. “As far as having control at that age, it was good for me. It made me mature. Kids looked up to me.”
Wallace, now 24, doesn’t visit the courts often, but he did earlier this week to take part in an informal ceremony to receive a donation that is likely to help the program prosper over the next few years.
On Tuesday, several representatives from the Blackhawk Women’s Tennis Association in Danville presented the youth tennis program with an oversized check in the amount of $5,320. The money, which was raised during the ritzy tennis club’s annual invitational, will go towards permit fees and registering the Richmond program’s 60-or-so students with the United States Tennis Association, an organization that has played a large part in keeping the program afloat over the years with grants.
Behind the Richmond tennis program is Barbara Lewis, a woman who was raised in Richmond and was instrumental in starting the program eight years ago. Since then, the year-round program has taught children not only tennis, but life skills.
“My message is it’s more than just teaching tennis,” she said. “It’s about your integrity, your honesty, your feelings, how you react to things and how those things affect you personally. I try to teach them responsibility and pride in themselves, and I think it’s working.”
Lewis said she expects the donation to last about two years. In addition to using the money for tournaments, she also plans to put some of it towards shoes, as well as the $25-per-month fee each child must pay to participate in the program, which some families cannot afford, Lewis said.
While the donation will help with gear and registration fees, the courts at Nicholl Park are unfortunately faded and cracked. The top layer has been worn off, almost down to the concrete. The sandy layer is exposed, sometimes posing a safety hazard to the kids who play there.
The kids don’t seem to mind, but they were reminded of the poor condition of their courts earlier this year.
“We took two teams to the championships in Fresno, and during the process of getting there, we’d have to play other clubs,” Lewis said. “We weren’t able to accommodate anyone because of the condition our courts were in.”
The recreation department is currently in the process of getting the three bids it needs in order to present the repaving project to the City Council. The first bid was done by a Blackhawk resident who offered to complete the project at a discount, Lewis said. The USTA has also offered to contribute to the cause, and Lewis is in the process of raising money.
But she said she doesn’t plan to use Blackhawk’s donation for repaving the courts, since that is a responsibility that falls on the city.
The Blackhawk invitational has been held every year for more than 20 years, but this year’s event was the most successful, said Peggy Cole, co-chair of the invitational and vice president of the BWTA. For the last eight years, the proceeds from the invitational have gone towards philanthropic endeavors that need it, including battered women’s shelters, hospice and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
This year, the BWTA knew it wanted the money to go towards an organization that fostered tennis amongst youth, Cole said. In addition to money raised at the invitational, Blackhawk residents donated more than $12,000 in new and used tennis equipment and school supplies.
Another woman from the BWTA, Azi Mohebbi, contacted Tennis Warehouse, an online hub for tennis gear. That organization’s president donated 30 brand new tennis rackets on top of the 90 or so rackets that were donated by Blackhawk residents.
“People are usually pretty generous, but I think it was that fact that it was kids that made them extra generous,” Cole said while standing on the Richmond courts.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, dozens of children scuffled around the courts, whacking balls across the nets and shouting “sorry!” when one went way out of bounds. They chased after balls for one another and took turns hitting balls tossed by Wallace and another teenager.
Blackhawk tennis players, Richmond parents and city representatives including City Manager Bill Lindsay and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles looked on as the children played.
“Tennis is sort of like, when you’re out there, it’s about you—you take responsibility for your good shots, and you take responsibility for your bad shots,” Lewis said. “You’re certainly not going to win every time; you’re certainly going to lose. I teach them to stay in there—hang in there—all that good stuff. Which is quite a lot like life.”
Lewis said that while many children in the program have parents who are unemployed or suffering from the poor economy, she rejects the notion that the program is intended to “save” at-risk children, she said. That’s a message she shared with Tuesday’s guests prior to their arrival.
“The donation is not about helping these poor little hard-knock kids who can’t afford this, and can’t afford that,” Lewis said. “They’re certainly not Blackhawk kids, but they’re not those types of kids you read about in the newspaper sometimes. Their parents are involved in this program, and we’re doing the best we can with this economy. I think that’s the real success of this program.”
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