It’s a sport that doesn’t just serve up fast paced action but also important lifelong lessons. Down the Line and Beyond (DTLB), a nonprofit organization located at 422 E. Locust Ave. in East Germantown, uses tennis to make sure inner city children always keep their eye on the ball.
DTLB operates tennis programs in some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Philadelphia, serving hundreds of students between the ages of 5 and 14 each year in its after-school and summer programs.
“Participants are ethnically diverse youngsters from low-income families who reside in Philadelphia,” executive director Oscar Eppley said. “Many come from single-parent homes, and most are familiar with personal and financial hardship. There is a need for constructive engagement after school and during the summer months.”
Eppley said the program uses tennis as a means to provide children in under-resourced communities character-building and education in a positive, fun, healthy environment.
Seventeen-year-old Aly Ba has been in the program since he was 9.
“I went through the program and now I’m teaching the younger kids involved in the program,” he said. “I learned a lot about character, being respectful and the program showed me the proper virtues to become a good person in this world.”
Aly, who attends the Haverford Boys School, feels the program has helped him beyond tennis.
“We had quarterly ambassador workshops where we talked and learned about different virtues and what it means on the court and how to embody them into real life,” he said.
DTLB holds tennis programs in basements, classrooms, gyms, and even parking lots. Eppley said they needed to build a community around the sport.
“We have hired inner city coaches and retirees from different neighborhoods to teach the kids,” he said. “It’s not that the children don’t want to play, they haven’t had the access or exposure to play.”
DTLB’s programs director Kiwi Nicholson said he hopes to make tennis appealing to inner city children.
“I think that from the very beginning tennis was a so called ‘white sport,'” he said. “So that’s where our programs come in. Once you put the interest and concern into the children, they become elated. Now this is something they want to pursue.”
Besides tennis, the organization offers education on other health habits. Eppley lit up as he talked about the character program, the nutrition program and the skin care program.
“It’s just like life,” he said. “People can prepare you but in the end, it’s just you out there. So we really try to get students to compose themselves in that way. We try to transfer the skills on and off the court. Their grades improve. We have a 90% retention rate and a 100% of the kids who play on our tennis teams end up attending college.”
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