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Summer camps promote diversity in tennis

August 3, 2015 02:56 PM

By Jonathon Braden
USTA South Carolina

Boys and girls from across the state experienced tennis for the first time or improved their games this summer thanks to new camps funded by USTA South Carolina.

The camps in Columbia, St. George and Beaufort exposed tennis to a diverse group of children throughout the months of June and July. About 50 kids in the three areas participated in the camps.

Stan Seabrook and some of the Columbia camp participants. (Submitted photo)

USTA South Carolina put $6,000 toward the programs to get more African-American children and Hispanic children playing tennis. USTA CEO and President Katrina Adams has made reaching out to Hispanic families and children a priority of her two-year presidency.

Traditionally, African-American and Hispanic children have been more likely to play other sports, including football, basketball and soccer, than tennis.

“We were trying to find ways or strategies to invite the more underrepresented sectors of our community into tennis,” said Fanni Simmons of Columbia.

Simmons is a member of the USTA South Carolina diversity and inclusion committee, which came up with the camp idea. The committee is comprised of a USTA South Carolina board member, employee and volunteers.

Simmons and others recruited parents and children by delivering fliers to local churches. They also recruited two coaches – Stan Seabrook, a Columbia-area coach, and Willie Ashford, the boys and girls tennis coach at Columbia High School – to run the camp at the Harbison Recreation Center.

Throughout July, the coaches worked with 16 kids on the basics of tennis, including how to hit a forehand and a backhand, Ashford said. The kids eventually progressed to rallying and keeping score.

“The kids are so excited,” Simmons said.

The committee awarded her and the two other sites $2,000 to coordinate the camps, said Rashawn Nelson, the staff member on the diversity committee.

With the money, Simmons paid the coaches, bought water and Gatorade and was able to buy every child a racket, she said.

“A lot of these kids had never played before,” Ashford said. “They enjoyed it very well.”

In St. George, summer camp leaders sought to improve the skills of kids who had already tried tennis.

Since 2009, boys and girls in St. George have been able to play the sport through programs organized by Barbara Jones, the founder and executive director of the St. George Youth Sports League. And parents have always volunteered to help teach the kids.

But the camp sessions let 25 kids hear different advice from new coaches, including James Martin and Antwayne Commodore, both of Summerville.

On a recent night, Martin worked on serving with Keegan Pate, a St. George Junior Team Tennis player. The two stood at the baseline, and Martin instructed him to get properly lined up before serving.

Martin works with Keegan Pate at the recent St. George practice. (USTA SC photo)

Martin became professionally certified to teach tennis in April through the Advancing the Commitment to Education program from the Professional Tennis Registry, which is headquartered on Hilton Head Island. The ACE program strives to produce more tennis coaches of color in the U.S.

“I just love the game and just enjoy it when kids want to learn,” said Martin, who is African-American.

Ian Jones, who’s worked with the St. George kids the past few years, was glad to have another certified professional helping. "It really solidifies St. George's tennis program," he said. "Now we're going from volunteer parents coaching to pros."

Maia Wilson, a 16-year-old rising junior in St. George, also was excited that more people were interested in St. George tennis. She can't get enough of the game. "I love the challenges," she said.

In Beaufort, Larry Scheper consistently worked with about six kids during the area’s summer camp in June and July, Nelson said.

Some days, though, the program had as many as 30 children, said Janice Johnson, who helped Scheper coordinate the camp. “The majority of them were beginners,” she said.

All three program leaders plan to continue working with the kids in the near future, they said.

During Simmons’ Columbia program, she said, one boy even shared aspirations for well beyond this summer.

“Today, Harbison,” Simmons recalled the boy saying, “tomorrow, Wimbledon.”

Martin plans to continue working with the St. George boys and girls. (USTA SC photo)