By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. – The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (NTC) was packed with more than 1,000 young and energetic tennis players, eager to impress the crowd. It wasn’t the US Open rocking the Queens landmark on this day – many of the players had never previously held a racquet – but the stakes were arguably as high as any Grand Slam final.
Thursday was the opportunity to showcase tennis as a way to change a life.
The USTA and Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown hosted children from 10 Far Rockaway public schools at the annual "Say Yes to Tennis, No to Violence" Day, a NTC tradition each spring since 1997. Brown, along with NTC Director of Tennis Whitney Kraft and New York Junior Tennis & Learning President & CEO Dr. Deborah MacFarlane Antoine, were part of the committee welcoming the young charges to the courts.
"Today marked another successful Say Yes to Tennis, No to Violence Day," said Kraft. "We are so proud that we can continue to partner with D.A. Brown and his staff to bring tennis to these great kids of Far Rockaway. Just to see the joy and fun they had makes me hopeful we sparked their curiosity and appreciation of the sport of tennis."
"Say Yes to Tennis, No to Violence" was developed to help encourage young participants in Brown’s STAR (Straight Talk About Risks) Track program to become interested in sports activities such as tennis as a constructive alternative to violence. Almost immediately after arriving through the gate, students engaged in tennis activities using youth tennis nets, balls and racquets, competing in the first tennis matches of their lives. Later on, they were treated to a demonstration led by St. John’s University men’s tennis head coach Eric Rebhuhn and women’s tennis head coach Taka Bertrand before boarding the buses once more in the late afternoon.
"Much like the STAR Track program’s goals of building up self-esteem, confidence and quality of life, I’m glad that we could provide tennis to these kids to help further that mission," said Kraft.
STAR Track sends Queens D.A. staffers, members of the New York City Corporation Counsel's Office and Queens Law Associates into the schools to teach children about the risks of drugs, gangs and guns in partnership with educators and parents. The program uses a curriculum designed to drive down the crime rate and build up self-esteem, confidence and quality of life.
The need for positive outlets takes on heightened importance in 2013. For many of the students, this is their first opportunity to travel out of Far Rockaway since Superstorm Sandy struck the area more than six months ago.
"The Say Yes to Tennis, No to Violence Day is by far one of my favorite events of the entire year," said Antoine. "This year is a particularly special for the kids who went through so much during Superstorm Sandy. I’m glad that I was able to witness their excitement and enthusiasm during their tennis activities. The great thing about tennis is it teaches resilience, resistance, and a drive to succeed. What better way to spread that message to these kids of Far Rockaway than at this wonderful event."
For more on the USTA's youth tennis initiative, and to find a program near you, go to YouthTennis.com