HOUSTON — In the heart of Houston at Memorial Park, kids are getting access to tennis, being taught how to play and learning life lessons along the way.
Meet 7-year-old Beyla Joya. She's learning the fundamentals nand maybe more importantly showing what it means to be a good sport.
“You’re doing a good job!" she told her teammate.
“It’s more like a friendship place too. And that’s what I really like," Joya says.
Beyla is one of about 7000 Houston junior tennis players who participate in free Houston Tennis Association classes. HTA is one of over 150 community tennis programs - like National Junior Tennis and Learning - supported by the USTA Foundation.
Executive Director Emily Schaefer said the programs provide access to kids who otherwise might not be able to play.
"You just look out here and you see the variety of backgrounds we have, the different ages, every gender is playing together, it’s an amazing sport because it brings together. The ball doesn’t know who’s hitting it," says Schaefer.
And each year, the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship – held at River Oaks Country Club – partners with the HTA to donate and give back – like they did after Hurricane Harvey – helping resurface the court.
“My favorite part about it is that you’ve got the very top of the game giving back to the humble beginnings," Schaefer says.
Potential future stars like Micah Ojeda also get to go to the tournament and see the pros up close as part of the pre-match coin toss.
"I took a lot of pictures and then I took a picture with the professionals. It-it felt like I was famous," she says.
For some, it all comes full circle. Francis Tiafoe is playing in this year’s tournament and participated in one of these community programs as a kid. Now, he’s a Top 30 player in the world.
But what’s most important are the lessons they take with them for life.
"You just hope that as they grow, they will take that spirit with them so that – I really hope that can make the world a better place," says Schaefer.