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Arthur Ashe's Legacy--Tennis for Everyone : Summer leagues: Program puts the expensive sport within reach of inner-city youths. One of the main goals is to keep players away from gangs.

August 01, 1993|IRENE GARCIA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Southern California Tennis Assn. started its summer junior league 14 years ago, only eight public parks offered the low-cost lessons to inner-city youths.

The idea was the late Arthur Ashe's, a three-time All-American at UCLA and 1968 U.S. Open and 1975 Wimbledon champion.

"Arthur Ashe and people back East put it together," said Jack Kramer, director of the SCTA. "Anybody connected with a park could do it."

This year, there are 119 sites from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. The leagues offer children, mainly from low-income families, an opportunity to participate in a sport they otherwise might not play because of cost.

Private lessons can cost about $50 an hour and a brand-name racket can cost hundreds of dollars.

"One of our main objectives is to keep kids off the street and give them something to do away from gangs," said Arlene Barco, assistant director of the league.

The program, which runs through Aug. 14, offers 18 hours of instruction, a T-shirt, a certificate of participation and a one-year membership to the United States Tennis Assn. Eleven sites, including Harvard Recreation Center, Los Angeles Trade Technical College and Roosevelt Park, have year-round clinics.

Summer leagues are run throughout the Southland. Sites include the Hollenbeck Recreation Center in East Los Angeles, Green Meadows Recreation Center in South-Central, El Sereno Recreation Center and Loren Miller Recreation Center in West Adams.

"We're hoping that we will attract kids that know nothing about tennis," said Kramer, a member of the 1939 U.S. Davis Cup team. "We want to get them out on the court and hooked on the sport."

The SCTA supplies balls and rackets and pays for instructors. Barco said it costs the organization $225,000 a year to run the program. The Amateur Athletic Foundation, which has been involved for eight years, donates $125,000 and the SCTA relies on fund-raisers and private donations to finance the difference. Unocal, Transamerica and UCLA are among the major contributors.

"We also get major donations from equipment companies," Barco said. "We do racket collections at various tennis clubs and we put on tournaments to raise money."

About 5,000 youths from 8 to 17 participate each year. Although it costs only $10, many cannot pay.

"Most of the ones who come here can't afford it," said Pete Brown, who coordinates leagues at Harvard Recreation Center and Trade Tech. "We don't turn anyone away."

Many of the instructors began the program as volunteers. One of them, Rodolfo Enriquez, a Compton tennis instructor, runs the SCTA's junior clinic at Roosevelt Park near Huntington Park.

Enriquez, who works as a locksmith for the Compton Unified School District, normally would be paid $20 an hour teaching private lessons on private courts. Through the SCTA program, Enriquez charges only $5 for 18 lessons.

"Balls and rackets are included," Enriquez said. "All the kids have to do is show up.

"Many times we don't even charge the kids if they don't have the money. This program gives kids a chance who otherwise would not be exposed to tennis because they couldn't afford the rackets or balls."

Part of the six-week program includes a trip to UCLA, which Enriquez said is an educational experience for children who would not ordinarily get the opportunity to visit a university.

"I've done it more than once and you see the kids' expressions," Enriquez said. "They have never seen buildings like Pauley Pavilion and they get excited about the school. It's very uplifting."

About 25 youths participate in Enriquez's clinic, which is held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

After working for 31 years as a teacher and coach at Fremont and Trade Tech, Brown, 64, is retired and volunteers his time to tennis programs throughout South-Central.

At Harvard Park, Brown has worked as a volunteer for 20 years in charge of the junior development program. He teaches a class every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. year-round and includes another class on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. during summer months.

"The goal of the program is to expose youths to tennis and get them involved at the grass-roots level," Brown said. "We have a number of players--about 5% to 10%--(who) go on and compete at the college level."

At Trade Tech, Brown runs two programs for different skill levels on Tuesdays and Thursdays. About 25 beginning and intermediate players meet from 3 to 4:30 p.m. and 15 advance players practice from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

In May, Brown received a service award from the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. Although Brown, who has been a tennis player and coach since 1938, is retired, he said he spends more time organizing tennis clinics than when he was working.

"Tennis is all I've done for so long," Brown said. "I'm involved in too many things to quit. There is always something new for me to do. But I have to admit, I love the game."

Sean Waters contributed to this report.

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