BOSTON (CBS) – Each month, “WBZ Cares” highlights a worthy non-profit organization, and tells the story of what that organization does for the community.
This month WBZ Cares profiles the”Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center,” an organization aimed at leveraging tennis to open doors of opportunity for youth in some of Boston’s most underserved communities.
It’s a welcome sound at the Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center. Dozens of kids volleying tennis balls back and forth at huge indoor courts. The Center was founded in 1961, at a time when tennis was considered a predominantly white sport. Executive Director Toni Wiley says a group of eight adult tennis players set out to change that, bringing the sport to the African American community in the Boston area.
“Tennis brings certain opportunities with it that was being lost in our community. It’s a nontraditional sport in black communities. So they wanted to introduce tennis to youth in a way that they would have a year-round access to it, play competitively and not simply have an introduction to it and nothing more,” said Wiley.
One of the founding and still current board members Mildred Jones remembers taking children to see tennis matches at the old Longwood Tennis and Cricket Club decades ago.
“Often matches playing in doubles so we would take the children over there to see that. So they could get exposed to just the game of tennis. From there it just grew,” Jones said.
STEC Grew into a center that now provides much more than just free tennis coaching; they also focus on leadership skills.
“We want to teach kids to be leaders on and off the court. Unless you get up to the really high levels, you are calling the shots yourselves, you’re calling the weather your opponents ball is in or out. So we want people to learn skills on the court, their own confidence in themselves, their own ability to figure out a strategy and execute it, the ability to stay calm under stress, their ability to stretch beyond what they think maybe their limits,” said Wiley.
For both Wiley and Jones, what makes it all worthwhile, is seeing the difference the center has made in the lives of the children it serves.
“Giving them a sense of community and a sense of wanting to give back, because they themselves got so much out of the program,” said Jones.
“You see them grow up, and suddenly they are off to college. It’s like sending your own kids off to college. Though, sometimes when people ask me how many kids I have I’m tempted to say 200 because that’s what it feels like,” Wiley said.