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Replacing Fear with Fun: Pinellas PAL Tennis Develops Model After-School Program

February 7, 2010 06:00 PM
By becoming a member of USTA Florida, as a player or a general supporter, 90% of your membership dollars go directly into the Florida tennis community to support programs and individuals across the state. This is another in the ongoing "Share the Love" campaign highlighting USTA Florida membership dollars at work.

By Rick Vach, ustaflorida.com

 
From left: Deputy Craig Corry, and Suncoast Tennis Foundation
Director Judy Foster
With the help of a tennis grant from USTA Florida, the Pinellas County Police Athletic League (PAL) and the Suncoast Tennis Foundation are beginning Year 6 of a program that has changed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged youths in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area -- and is now positioned to become a state-wide model for PAL tennis programs.

The Suncoast Tennis Foundation, an official USTA Florida Community Tennis Association, teamed with PAL Tennis Program Coordinator Deputy Craig Corry after seeing the after-school, weekend and camps program in action. The foundation realized the need not only for expanded tennis and after-school activities, but for a program that promotes respect and values to the largely underprivileged children it serves.

"He's got a passion for children and tennis that's just unmatched," said Suncoast Tennis Foundation Director Judy Foster of Deputy Corry. "He's terrific with them, and they become very disciplined and respect him. Not only the tennis, but they learn respect for the [police] uniform, they learn respect for the sheriff's department, they learn to become disciplined themselves and they go on to also play other sports, or go on to play tennis for their high school teams. A lot of them play for Seminole High School where Craig is the resource officer and coach."

Corry started the PAL program eight years ago, toward the end of his law enforcement career in St. Petersburg, looking to work with underprivledged kids in the summer time as he had done at Eckerd College. He taught tennis to underprivileged children with the help of former USTA Florida Community Coordinator Jeff Davis, and Davis connected Corry with USTA Florida and the Suncoast Tennis Foundation to start the program in motion.

"In 2007, with Jeff's help and the help of Paul Hicks, who is the PAL athletic director, we received a grant for $5,600 through the Suncoast Tennis Foundation from USTA Florida to sponsor the PAL tennis program," Corry said.

In 2008 the Suncoast Tennis Foundation gave another $2,500 PAL grant, and continues to support the program.

The Pinellas PAL tennis program works with children of all skill levels. The more advanced players compete against area teams and at the state championships in the USTA Florida Jr. Team Tennis league. A testament to Corry's program in 2009 was finishing first in Pinellas County in Jr. Team Tennis.

"We were so proud of the PAL [Jr. Team Tennis] team this past summer, beating such illustrious teams as Berkeley Prep., which is a private school that has always done well -- they're well-funded and tennis has always been a big thing there," Foster said. "So the Pinellas kids got the first-place trophy and advanced to the state tournament in Lakeland. They've learned a lot about teamwork as this program has evolved."

The team went on to finish second at the state tournament. Part of the ramping-up of the program since 2007, with the addition of the USTA Florida/Suncoast Tennis Foundation grant, features a full-summer camp and additional programs catering to every level of player.

"The number of kids wanting to play increased and we were able to participate in several tournaments in the summer time. We started developing kids at three different levels of play," Corry said. "We had kids who just wanted to have fun in the summer time or who were beginners, and we had the kids at the intermediate level, and then the kids who wanted to develop their skills and eventually go into tournament play."

STATE MODEL

As part of the grant, the Pinellas PAL program,  in conjunction with  USTA Florida's Community Tennis Council,  developed a guide, available on the Pinellas PAL website (see link below), for how to start and develop a PAL/USTA Jr. Team Tennis program.

"I did some talks with some other Police Athletic Leagues and there was some interest in this program, since tennis is currently the fastest-growing sport in the U.S.," said Corry, whose latest trip was north to Jacksonville to speak with PAL officials who were considering launching their first PAL tennis program. "There's not a lot of overhead for the program, especially if you have access to high school tennis courts. There's not a lot of equipment that is needed. My vision is to eventually see the Police Athletic Leagues throughout the state of Florida pick up this program, but you truly have to have someone that is committed to doing it. There's a lot of volunteer hours that I give it, and I don't mind giving it, because it's my passion."

Corry stresses the PAL tennis program is much more than tennis.

"We want diversification in our program. We try and use tennis to teach educational, social and life skills," Corry says. "We want to offer them a chance to have success, and to replace fear with fun. Especially those that don't necessarily want to continue on with tennis in a tournament setting. We concentrate on sportsmanship, developing character, ethical values, because a lot of these kids come from one-parent homes and don't have the same opportunities that a lot of other boys and girls have. Bottom line is, we want to provide them with opportunities and alternatives."

USTA Florida supplied the Suncoast Tennis Foundation with the services of Mary Harowski, an independent contractor and fund development coordinator, via the USTA Florida Community Tennis Council to aid with writing the PAL guide. Foster and Harowski realized the potential for spreading the program beyond Pinellas County, and possibly nation-wide.

"After we got the $5,600 grant for PAL and the program went so well, we thought that this could be something that could go state-wide, that other PAL chapters could do," Foster said. "Just starting this little program and planting the seed with other PAL chapters, to see what it can do for the kids and the PAL chapter itself, it has been so popular. We'd like it to spread a little more throughout the state, and take it to USTA national."

Corry says that for any one individual or group with a passion for tennis and kids, one grant from USTA Florida can change the lives of thousands of children.

"I pretty much started this at the ground level," Corry said of the tennis program that, like many after-school initiatives across Florida run by passionate advocates, has turned into so much more. "There are so many doors that can be opened for these kids through the PAL tennis program."

CLICK HERE to see the PAL/USTA Jr. Team Tennis "Guidelines for developing a USTA Jr. Team Tennis Program through the partnership of Police Athletic Leagues and Community Tennis Associations."

FACT: The first Police Athletic League (PAL) was founded in New York City in 1914, and is still in operation. Today, the PAL serves more than 1.5 million youths ages 5 through 18. PAL has over 300 law enforcement agencies serving over 700 cities throughout the United States, as well as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Canada.
 

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