Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program

Featured on Rachael Ray

Ashley Marshall  |  January 21, 2020

A junior tennis and education program serving inner-city youngsters a few miles outside of downtown Los Angeles continues to go from strength to strength after being featured on the Rachael Ray Show last week. 


The show recognized the Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program and its director Marty Woods, who was honored as the show’s hero of the week. At the end of the segment, Woods was surprised by a video message from Mike and Bob Bryan, who donated $10,000 to help support the program’s goal: to encourage urban kids to explore the sport of tennis.


The program grows and promotes junior tennis as a platform for developing character, physical fitness and lifetime achievement, building on its core cornerstones of commitment, leadership and community.


The Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program has operated at Harvard Park in a residential area of South Central Los Angeles since 2009. ADVERTISEMENT The program offers free weekly supervised on-court professional tennis coaching and training to children of all levels from ages 5 to 18. All equipment is provided, including tennis racquets, shoes, outfits and balls.


Woods remembers the impact tennis had on his life as a 6-year-old picking up a racquet for the first time. Woods grew up without a father figure, a role Brown partly filled at a tennis program in Harvard Park, one of four National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) sites that Brown ran in the city close to where Woods grew up.


When Brown passed away in 2009, Woods decided to head up the program in Brown's name.


“Pete pulled me out of a tough community and put me under his wing and gave me a safe home,” Woods said. “There were rival gangs on both sides of the community, so a space like that was really needed.


“He brought mentors into our community. When he passed away in 2009, I felt a void there, and I wanted to get involved and keep his legacy alive. I wanted to do it for him because he did it for me.”


The program operates several sites across the city, with hopes to grow in the coming years.


At Harvard Park, the program currently works with around 40 children in its quick-start program and another 25 in its intermediate and advanced classes. Another 22 youngsters attend programming at St. Andrews Park, with plans to create more opportunities on the two courts at Athens Park and at Lueders Park.


Constantly looking to evolve to meet the needs of its community, in 2017 the program began offering nutritional food menus to help the children lead healthier lives on and off the court.


They also joined forces with a local chef to expand the offerings which, in turn, led to the program collaborating with the American Heart Association to get the association’s “healthy stamp” of approval on the new menus. 


Next month, the program is going to expand even further, bringing a farmers market to Harvard Park to help local residents buy fresh, affordable produce—something that has long been missing from the community, Woods said. 


Woods believes it was this healthy eating component of the program that caught the eye of producers on the Daytime Emmy Award-winning CBS show. He says the Rachael Ray Show was hooked by the food angle but impressed by the total package of what the program offers to its community.


“What hit her the most was that we are doing really grassroots stuff without the big donors and big corporations,” Woods said. “The healthy eating was the trigger, but it’s really about creating a program in the community that is making an impact.


“We expose them to tons of stuff that is different to sports. Not everybody is going to play the sport and stick with it, so we wanted to create a program that is dynamic so the kids can achieve life success. And we bring in mentors to help with different things outside tennis to help them balance being a better person on the court and a better person in their community.”


The program does everything from providing racquets to helping send youngsters to college combines. It assists participants with fitness plans and helps tournament scheduling for those who wish to play competitively in their age group.


“It’s all free for most low-income kids,” Woods added.


Among the many success stories of the Pete Brown Tennis Program are Maxi Duncan, Anna Spearman and Kent Hunter.


Sixteen-year-old Duncan has found success on the court at every level after joining the program as an 8-year-old. She won the USTA Southern California Girls’ 10s title, reached the USTA National Clay Court Girls’ 12s doubles final and won the USTA National Hard Court Girls’ 14s doubles championship. Hoping to make it on the pro circuit one day, Duncan competes across the world, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.


The Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program assisted Duncan with travel costs, coaching, equipment, tennis clothing, training, mentoring, guidance, tutoring and moral support. The program says Duke, USC, Stanford and UCLA have shown an interest in recruiting the talented teen.


Hunter received a scholarship to the University of California - Berkeley for varsity tennis after he and his two sisters began playing tennis with the Pete Brown Program when they were young children. And Spearman began playing tennis with the Pete Brown Tennis Program when she was 9 years old and is now a senior at the University of Virginia, where she plays on the club tennis team while majoring in computer science with a minor in technology entrepreneurship.


Now, Woods, a salesman at a computer tech company, said the program will be able to do even more, thanks to the generosity of the Bryan brothers, who were born in California and who have donated more than $1.2 million to deserving causes through their Bryan Brothers Foundation.  


“We are going to be able to do more to bring in mentors for our educational programs,” Woods said. “We’ll be able to create more menus and bring in healthier snacks and help with equipment and tournament fees.


“I’m overwhelmed that the Bryan brothers recognized us. [Mike and Bob’s father] Wayne knew Pete Brown, and he knew the work that Pete was doing in the community. This was meant to be. I think someone is looking down on us and bringing this together. Now it’s up to us to make sure we go about it the right way and honor Pete’s mission. The sky is the limit. I want to jump on this wave and ride it as long as I can.


“The platform this show provides, how can you explain that? Going on one of the No. 1 cooking shows in the nation and for her to be so compassionate, how big is that? Guys coming from where I come from, hearing her call me a hero is huge. It made me realize that I have been going and going and going. Look at the impact we’ve made—kids going to college, it really makes you believe in what we’re doing. I took a chance to step back and see that we are making an impact, and it fired me up even more. I’m even more motivated now.”


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