For the third year, the Charleston Family YMCA is offering free tennis lessons for children ages 9 through 16 at the City of Charleston’s courts on Edgewood Drive.
The program started nearly a month ago and will continue throughout the summer, providing half-hour lessons to up to 30 kids on weekdays until Aug. 2.
Mindy White, Charleston Branch Director and former instructor at the Y, said the program was created after two members, Bill Carter and Newt Thomas, noticed the West Side courts were not being utilized in a way they thought they should be.
“They came up with the idea, and so a kid will get a half an hour free tennis lesson, and then they get a free tennis racket after their eighth lesson, and then every day we provide them with some sort of a meal,” she said.
White said in the past few years, as many as 120 kids have participated in the program.
“You know, a lot of the kids keep coming back because they develop a relationship with the instructors,” she said.
For families who may not be able to afford to put their child in a sport, tennis is usually out of the question.
“Many kids don’t know about tennis, because tennis is a relatively expensive sport. So we want to make sure that every child is provided with a racket, and we’re up to giving them some tennis balls,” White said. “So, if we give them the basics, then that court is right there, and they can ride their bikes to it.”
Besides introducing kids to the sport, the program is also helping local schools build teams of players that they haven’t had in years.
“We want these courts to be utilized, but then we also want to help out the different schools, as well, because it’s hard to compete with other schools if you don’t have the resources that are available,” White said.
According to White, Stonewall Jackson Middle School didn’t have a girls or boys team for quite some time, but once the program started, interest in the sport began to build.
“The first year, we were able to get a tennis team for them. We had just girls,” she said. “Then, last year, there were a couple more boys, and we had a couple more boys this year, too.”
White said she’s hoping to get more boys involved.
Funding provided by the United States Tennis Association, the Charleston Area Tennis Association and Thomas allows the program to be completely free for the participants. The Kiwanis Club of Charleston also helps provide lunches for the players.
Instructors include players from West Virginia State University, and George Washington and Charleston Catholic high schools.
“So many kids, they don’t have as much parental guidance, so we want to give them something they can look forward to doing,” White said.
“Tennis is a sport where you only need two people or just yourself and wall, so when you get older and you can’t grab five or six people and say, ‘Let’s go play a game of basketball, volleyball or soccer.’ With tennis you just need the two people and a couple balls.”