TB McPherson Pilot Program offers new tennis opportunity in east Gainesville

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A new safe and fun way for children and adults to learn tennis has made its way to east Gainesville.

The children participating in the TB McPherson Pilot Program listened intently to head coach Christopher Champion as they learned new games and drills to help better their tennis skills. After a warm-up, the kids take to the court, practicing serves and volleying while making new friends with their classmates.

Play Tennis Gainesville is hosting a six-week pilot program at TB McPherson Park for children and adults to learn the game of tennis from the ground up. No equipment is required for the course and is targeted toward new players or beginners with little tennis experience.

The program intends to bring tennis to those who may not otherwise have access to it in the east Gainesville community, and give beginners the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. The program also aims to be affordable for students, with a cost of $50 for six weeks of lessons, according to the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Florida website.

Coach Champion instructs a red ball session at TB McPherson Park. (Josie Thode/WUFT News)

“Since we’re trying to branch over here to the Eastside and expand, I’m hoping that it will bring more of an opportunity for children to learn tennis,” said Ebony Wiggins, the tennis facility attendant. “Especially if they saw it before on TV and wondered if they would like to play but it may not have been available to them, or parents didn’t have the resources to do it.”

With the sport now accessible to more children, the groundwork can be set for these children to ultimately start and further a tennis career. The program also enables children and adults to have exercise opportunities during the evening.

“We particularly hope to inspire and encourage our region’s Black male youth to participate as there is a huge opportunity to introduce more of them to the wonderful sport,” said Jamar Hebert, the co-founder/chairman and president of 100 Black Men of Greater Florida GNV Inc.

Hebert also stressed the many aspects of tennis that are helpful to both children and adults, such as the social benefits and exercise abilities.

“Like any sport, it is much more beneficial to start when you are younger,” said Jill Lawrence, a tennis player at Methodist University who has been playing since she was 6 years old. “You learn most of your motor development skills younger and become a lot more flexible.”

The program also aims to have the participants have fun while learning the basics of the game. Parents and guardians have emphasized their appreciation for the program and what it has taught their children already.

“He is already learning how to socialize with other kids and the discipline of actually having to listen,” said Romona Jackson, whose 2-year-old godson is participating in the program.

“I just want her to have fun. I want her to learn about the sport as much as she can,” said Latashia Brimm, whose granddaughter is learning tennis. “So hopefully she will be able to use it later on as well.”

The 2021 TB McPherson Pilot Program has three different programs offered: red ball tennis for children 2 to 8 years old, orange ball tennis for children aged 9 to 14 years old, and the Love to Learn adult clinic for people who have never played the sport before.

“I just would love to instill a lifelong love for the sport,” said Geetha Velusamy, who teaches the classes for Play Tennis Gainesville. “Especially speaking about Love to Learn and people who are starting later in life, who feel like their age could be a deterrent sometimes. I just want to show them that it’s fun no matter what skill level you are at.”

Instructor Geetha Velusamy teaches balancing with a tennis racket. (Josie Thode/WUFT News)

The program utilizes a new curriculum, called the Net Generation curriculum, which was created by USTA National, of which Play Tennis Gainesville is a subset. The curriculum focuses on letting the users have fun while also instilling a sense of community and skills.

The program is partnered with Aces in Motion and 100 Black Men of Greater Florida GNC Inc. The plan was devised after a Juneteenth event, where members of the organizations thought that it was finally possible to make the program possible.

“Without their support, we would not be where we are today,” said Christopher Champion, the head tennis professional for Play Tennis Gainesville. “We are very appreciative of their partnership, as it allows for our bandwidth of communication about tennis in this community to expand.”

The program has gotten attention through word-of-mouth advertising as well as social media, garnering more than 30 players for the initial onset of the program.

“My mom is really connected throughout the community, and through those connections, she found out about the program and enrolled her grandchildren in it,” said Airre-elle Jones, who has three children participating in the program.

About Josie Thode

Josie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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