- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

A pilot program in the District will offer up 45 minutes of tennis instruction each day to thousands of children in 20 city-run summer programs.

The program, which starts Monday, is a partnership between the city and the United States Tennis Association, which is providing staff, training and equipment at no cost.

Up to 4,000 children ages 6 to 13 are expected to participate in the Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) Camp Discovery program.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said at a press conference Thursday at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast that he noticed the number of unused tennis courts in the city and decided the program was a way to put them to good use.

“Not only is tennis one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, it is a complete sport, one that builds great benefits for its players - physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Mr. Fenty said.

The USTA will provide instruction for the pilot program through coaches and students at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.

Ray Benton, CEO of the tennis center, said three JTCC students, 11-17 years old, and a coach will go to each DPR camp and provide instruction to the Camp Discovery children.

“We want our kids to have the experience of working with kids and a chance to give back. It will be a very good experience for them, because they are used to receiving instruction,” Mr. Benton said.

The pilot program will also offer two “magnet” tennis programs at the Banneker Community Center in Northwest and the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, where a smaller group of randomly selected campers will receive further tennis instruction.

Another component of the pilot program is an expansion of tennis clinics held with the city’s professional tennis team, the Washington Kastles. Clinics have featured professional tennis players such as Venus and Serena Williams. Kastles owner Mark D. Ein said the city is an “ideal partner.”

“We have a partnership with DPR to make our team more accessible to kids,” he said. “They have been coming to our clinics with Venus and Serena.”

After the press conference, Mr. Fenty - who proclaimed himself the “number-one tennis fan who has never played tennis in their life” - swatted a few balls around the courts with the Turkey Thicket campers, some of whom scored on him.

He joked with one girl who appeared to be a skilled tennis player.

“You go easy on me,” he said. “You’re going to need a summer job in a few years.”

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