In April 2006, a center unlike any other opened at 4842 Ridge Ave., close to Manayunk and East Falls. The Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education Center provides tennis training and classes to all of Philadelphia, along with the surrounding suburbs and New Jersey.
The center uses tennis to help kids ages 4 to 18 maintain positive lifestyles, stay out of violence and remain in school. The training is open to everyone, especially those from low-income communities.
The Ashe Center has eight outdoor courts along with eight inside courts, a small cafeteria/dining hall, classrooms and an administrative suite.
The training consists of eight week-long sessions, with at least one class every week. Hashaan Freeman started out as a participant and is now a tutor, coach and operations associate. He said an average of 1,200 children normally start each session and many of them continue on to summer programs.
“When we get a kid, we keep a kid,” Freeman said, “sometimes for their whole life.”
It does cost money to participate in the tennis lessons but the prices are reasonable for the sport. Freeman said, “it’s affordable for underprivileged children” and “is a safe haven, a social place to be yourself. Tennis is a skill set you can use for the rest of your life.”
Many Philadelphia schools already have a school tennis program. The Ashe Center works with those schools and the community to help bring in children for the sessions.
Some of their students go on to join the Pro Tennis track and have played on ESPN. In July, Venus Williams came and taught classes. In April, the center has its annual gala, which attracts over 2,000 people every year, including local celebrities like Sonny Hill and Jim Ellis.
Freeman said the center has “a lot of success stories around here…it’s very easy to have a great time here and the diversity is amazing.”
The website is www.ashetennis.org.