NEW YORK – At Marcy’s Playground in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, tennis balls fly across the court and excited children as young as 5 swing their rackets as they learn to play.
“My number one goal is to play tennis professionally,” says Jonathan Delrosario, 16, who grew up in the neighborhood. He, along with the other youths who play on the courts, is part of the Kings County Tennis League.
He was in a typical class organized by the nonprofit, formed 12 years ago as a way to bring the sport to children living in and around public housing.
“The simple fact that they come for the first time and they’re a little intrigued. They start to learn and they feel like they’re developing that pride in their community as the public house tennis club,” says Mohammad El-Haj Ahmad, executive director.
Classes run year-round, serving six NYCHA developments in Brooklyn. The tennis club on Marcy’s playground has just launched its fall after-school season.
Program leaders believe that the lessons that can be taught on the court will be useful to these youth in later life.
“Tennis teaches responsibility, character, discipline,” said program manager Rob Gerstman. “To become good at a sport like tennis, you have to put in the time.”
This season, they also started expanding their team by signing teenagers who came directly from the league. Delrosario is one of those recent signings.
“It really helped me a lot when it comes to my mindset. It made me more open. Before, I was a shy kid,” he told CBS 2’s Hannah Kliger.
Classes and equipment are free for league families, thanks to funding provided by groups like the Brooklyn Communities Collaborative.
“Being able to improve their health and well-being and, essentially, their wealth by providing them with additional opportunities is something we truly believe in,” says Emmanuella Chevalier, Community Engagement Coordinator at the BCC.
Mothers like Andrea Donadelle, whose three daughters attend the classes, say it gives them the opportunity to play the sport they love.
“If not, my girls would be playing video games. So now they’re outside, they’re excited, they’re running, they’re getting in shape, they’re staying active and social, so that’s exactly what we want.
For some, like Delrosario, it might even open the door to a career opportunity, because now the ball is in their court.
Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Send Hannah an email by CLICKING HERE.