For the past five years, the Friends of Patterson Park (FPP) has offered free youth fall tennis programs and events benefitting hundreds of kids ages 6 to 12 years old.
By Katie Long and Alex Chan, special to USTA.com
School is out for summer. It’s Saturday, and that can only mean one thing … tennis! At least, that’s what it means for the kids in the Friends of Patterson Park Youth Tennis Program.
For the past five years, the Friends of Patterson Park (FPP) has offered free youth fall tennis programs and events benefitting hundreds of kids ages 6 to 12 years old. This year, thanks to a new USTA Diversity and Inclusion Signature grant and funding from the Baltimore (Md.) Rotary Club, FPP will be able to provide double the tennis time with a summer and fall clinic for Patterson Park youth! Four courts at the park also just received permanent blended lines to support future 10 and Under Tennis instruction, Jr. Team Tennis and tournaments.
"The kids are really into it," said Katie Long, program director and Hispanic liaison for the Friends of Patterson Park. "They ask me all through the winter, ‘When is tennis going to start again?’ It is one of our most popular and sought-after programs, so being able to have both a summer and fall clinic is wonderful."
The participants in the clinic reflect the diversity enjoyed in the southeast neighborhoods that surround Patterson Park. "Boys and girls are equally as likely to sign up," says FPP Coach Janet Pinkett, who also knows many of the kids through her work as a para-educator at nearby Patterson Park Public Charter School (PPPCS). Approximately 35 percent of the participants are African-American, 20 percent are Hispanic, 20 percent are Caucasian, 15 percent are of mixed heritage and 10 percent are "other."
Pinkett and Coach Georgia Holland-Pence (who teaches PE at PPPCS) have been the FPP tennis coaches for the past two years and have enjoyed seeing the kids’ progress.
"Tennis provides children the advantage of developing skills that promote their overall physical, mental and emotional well-being," Pinkett said. "Problem-solving skills learned on the court can easily be translated to problem-solving in the classroom. That said, my role in the process is to introduce tennis to young people in a manner which fosters a love for the sport. I believe it is important to get children to have fun and learn love the sport of tennis first. The skills will come."
The promotion of the program and its coordination is deliberate in its outreach to the various income levels and cultural backgrounds of the community. All materials are in both English and Spanish and the clinics are free for all.
"Everything we do at the Friends of Patterson Park is free," said Long. "I remember growing up in the Baltimore area, playing tennis, and it being very expensive. Patterson Park is home to eight public tennis courts. It is so nice to see all of these kids who are really interested in tennis have the opportunity to participate in an organized program without their parents having to think about the price."
At the end of the summer six-week clinic, the FPP tennis kids will participate in a Play Day at Patterson Park. Those interested in going the next step are working with Pinkett to play a local season of USTA Jr. Team Tennis and hope to advance to represent the city of Baltimore for the very first time at the Maryland State Jr. Team Tennis Championship.