By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
NEW ORLEANS -- From 10 and Under Tennis, to adult players, to parents who want to take a more active role in their child's personal development, the Community Tennis Development Workshop (CTDW) each year serves as the meeting of the most tireless minds from all 17 USTA sections and the national level to discuss the future of tennis in the United States.
As part of USTA.com's coverage of the 2012 CTDW in "The Big Easy," we're going around the workshops to discover which new ideas, initiatives and practices are pushing people towards the ultimate goal: To promote and develop the game at all levels.
Along the way we'll meet the impassioned speakers delivering the presentations and come to know what drives their efforts.
Want to express your thoughts, or hear what others have to say about the state of American tennis? Check out the USTA's Twitter page and tweet yourself with the hashtag: #ctdw12 today!
Who They Are:
- Andrew Shahan, Principal, ARISE Academy
- Dr. Anna Monhartova, Co-Founder, A’s and Aces NJTL
- Cathy Puett, Executive Director, HandsOn New Orleans
ARISE Academy has emerged as a budding sanctuary in the "The Big Easy," where inner-city poverty makes it an everyday hardship to survive.
The charter school in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward has over 350 charges to its pre-kindergarten to fourth grade ranks - and 20 percent of the kids who walk through the doors each day are homeless. On Sunday, as nearly 200 volunteers from the USTA visited the campus on St. Claude Avenue to help refurbish the school playground, lobby and library, a shooting has occurred a mere block away, minutes before the bus arrives.
"Stick close together and don’t wander," warns Principal Andrew Shahan.
For four hours the volunteers from both the USTA and HandsOn New Orleans – a local community service development program - would paint, mulch, tape and tackle any task necessary to freshen up ARISE Academy before the arrival of students on Tuesday. By the 5:00 p.m. call back to the buses, two freshly-painted 36-foot 10 and Under Tennis courts, a 60-foot court, two foursquare surfaces and a basketball court gleamed in the setting sun.
Feature Idea: First Generation Readers
Shahan himself gets in on the manual labor, trading in his occupational suit and tie for gym shorts and a t-shirt, handling a spade and shoveling fresh mulch into wheelbarrows with the USTA contingent. A scholarship tennis player in college, Shahan emerged from the same kind of humble beginnings as his students to become a positive force in the community.
"I grew up on the south side of Atlanta in a single-parent home – at ARISE, we offer 100-percent free lunch to our kids to make sure they eat," said Shahan. "I would have certainly qualified for it."
Picking up a tennis racquet for the first time as a teenager, Shahan became a top-flight high school player before earning an academic scholarship to Oglethorpe College. There, he played and served as a coach to local junior players, sometimes tutoring them with homework to ensure that they could remain on the court.
"I know that tennis is the sport of opportunity – I’m living it," said Shahan. "I received a college education because of this game, how it made me focus. Coaching allowed me to get my master’s degree in Special Education. The jobs I took afterwards, the traveling I’ve done to make it – without the lessons that playing tennis taught me, I don’t know if I’m here today.
"It doesn’t surprise me that when we have our kids playing tennis regularly – as we do here at ARISE Academy – that they are experiencing that same level of freedom. As hard as life gets and as hard as things are, there’s joy in the act of hitting a ball back and forth."
A partner in bringing tennis to the Ninth Ward with ARISE and HandsOn New Orleans is the A's and Aces National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter, whose staffers are integrated into the school offering tennis instruction and classroom assistance. With a mission statement calling to provide academic help, life skills and tennis instruction to New Orleans public school children as a way to increase their opportunities for success, leading the A’s and Aces effort each day is Dr. Anna Monhartova, a one-time professional tennis player out of the Czech Republic. Monhartova starred in college for Tulane University and knows the value of education – while attending, she was a member of the university’s Honors program while double-majoring in Political Science and Russian en route to a doctorate, returning to the school as an adjunct assistant professor. Monhartova co-founded the A’s and Aces NJTL in 2008.
"Tennis is important for kids socially, emotionally – its opportunities go beyond the physical benefits," said Monhartova. "A’s and Aces is part of the New Orleans community. We’re thankful for all the support we’ve had from local organizations and government to get our kids playing."
Shahan undertook the re-establishment of the one-time George Washington School after getting a fellowship with New Schools New Orleans, a charter school incubator. From there, he learned how to write a charter for the school he wanted to create. When the school opened in 2009, he met a student base that tested in the third percentile for their age.
"At one time this was, effectively, the worst public elementary school in America – students here scored lowest in New Orleans, the New Orleans parish (county) was worst in all of Louisiana and Louisiana was ranked dead last in education in the United States," said Shahan. "You couldn’t be any worse. Often you’ll hear someone – with pride – say that they’re the first in their family to attend college. We have kids here that are first-generation readers.
"Its hard to expect kids to learn how to read if their parents can’t help them do so."
How To Improve: Follow By Example
The clean-up and rebuilding efforts are part of a greater initiative sponsored by HandsOn New Orleans in memory of the life Martin Luther King Jr., as a "Day of Service:" The main idea being that the annual holiday from work should be a day "on" rather than a day off for the city’s residents to give back to New Orleans. Last October, with the organization’s annual Community Tennis Development Workshop already scheduled for the Crescent City, the USTA reached out to see how it could contribute to HandsOn’s goal and simultaneously promote and develop tennis and the plan to assist ARISE Academy was constructed.
The not-for-profit organization was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has mobilized over 32,500 volunteers into over 600,000 hours of service in Louisiana – just the start of their work in rehabilitating an area in crisis.
"For me, as the head of the organization, a day of service is where you can get a diverse group of individuals together – such as the group we had today – to deliver major contributions in a short time frame," said Cathy Puett, HandsOn New Orleans Executive Director. "What this group took on and accomplished inside of two, three hours makes a huge impact here in New Orleans.
"Hopefully when you have days like these you can also inspire others to take on smaller projects – so when the USTA is not here, we’ll have locals or other community groups that can handle those tasks."