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Community Tennis

 Washington Heights Tennis For All

The Washington Heights Tennis Association, located in northern
Manhattan, was the vision of a single man, Eligio Reynoso (Leo). He
started playing tennis in the early 1970’s while still in high school
when there weren’t too many avenues for a teenager from the Dominican
Republic to get on a tennis court. Playing on concrete city courts
under the George Washington Bridge, he worked himself up to be a first-
rated competitive player.  He started teaching tennis to his youngest
brother, Marcelino, who was eventually ranked fourth on the East
coast. That was Eligio’s first inspiration.  This inspired Eligio to
realize that he had the potential and a special case to teach tennis
to the Washington Heights Youth.

Twenty years later as a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, Leo
started teaching art at Manhattan Country School, an independent
private school in upper Manhattan. But he still wanted to do more for
the kids in his community.  Washington Heights has hundreds of kids
hanging out in the street corners, wasting time and often getting
into trouble.  In light of this he approached Gregorio Luperon High
School, an alternative school for immigrant youth.  Leo could see they
needed to have focused activities and before long he was convincing
the kids to come with him to the Harlem Tennis Center.

In addition to his art teaching, he felt that he could do more with
kids using sports to give them a physical outlet and also impart
discipline, teamwork, ethics, and love of the game.  This evolved into
the Washing Heights Tennis Association which offers free group tennis
lessons all year round and semi- private lessons to advanced kids on
Saturday evenings.  It also runs a three-day-a-week summer program in
conjunction with Columbia University at Inwood Hill Park.

Today, The summer tennis program reaches more than 200 kids from all
walks of life.  Local kids get priority, but many come from Harlem and
from Nearby Bronx.  In the summer, there’s a open first-come, first-
serve policy, but serious players can't afford not to play all year.
With limited time, space, and funding for indoor tennis in winter, the
kids are chosen based on hard work and commitment. The beginners still
get a few hours of play, but Leo dedicates his Saturday nights to
concentrate on the advanced students with whom he works out from 6-9
p.m. at Columbia University’s indoor courts at  Baker Field.  These
advanced students gain exposure to competitive tennis though low-cost
USTA-sponsored team leagues that play all around the city.  Given the
costs of indoor tennis time in New York Cit, it would be virtually
impossible for the kids from these neighborhoods to play tournaments
otherwise.  In addition to playing, they get a sense of the history
and grandeur of the game by planting their feet on the same courts
where tennis greats have been, like the original Forest Hills Stadium
where the US. Open was played for sixty years until it moved to
Flushing Meadows in 1978.

Kids from ages 5 to 17 play together along with a group of coaches and
parents who make it all happen.  The Association, which has been
incorporated for 16 years, benefits from the help from lots of
neighborhood institutions, friends, and local politicians.

There’s a Board of Directors and a group of coaches who believe so
heartily in the principle that they are always willing to go the extra
mile for the organization.  Jose Ureña and Jose Madera are two coaches
coming from the neighborhood.  Michael Ford, comes from Inwood,
directing the early age program for five-to-eight-year old.  Parents
like Dinesh Kumar supports the 11-14 year-old regular team by managing
the teams at matches all over Queens and Manhattan at their Saturday
night competition.  His reason:   “It has given my 11 year-old son and
14 year-old daughter a chance to play competitive tennis that they
would never otherwise have.  It is amazing to see them walk on a
court, confidently shake hands with an opponent, play by the rules,
and come away with a sense of pride and self-respect, no matter what
the score may be.”

Gaurav Misra, former Indian national tennis champion and now, Director
of Columbia University’s Dic Savitt Tennis Center, coordinates the
sumer program and also arranges indoor winter tennis time for the
Associations kids at a low cost because he believes in the mission of
“Growing tennis” ...encouraging youth to play and brining talented
neighborhood kids to rank level.

Adrian Espaillat, Assemblyman from District 72 which includes northern
Manhattan, has been especially supportive.  He’s been a champion for
state money and given grants to local organizations, including
Washington Heights Tennis Association.  and has been instrumental in
getting the local’s park’s courts resurfaced which will greatly help
the summer program.

The Association holds local fund-raisers and all parents contribute in
various ways.  One in particular,Jonahiby Tauil the father of J.J.
Tauil, a nationally ranked player and graduate of the program who is
now pursuing a professional tennis career, Yonahiby, has personally
supported the program because he believes strongly in the mission of
helping disadvantaged kids.

The Washington Heights Tennis Association established the Annie Valdez
Winter Scholarships Fund to honor Annie Valdez, a parent and a board
member who passed away two years ago.  Cindy, Annie’s oldest daughter
developed a good tennis game and participated in the Pan American
games in the Dominican Republic in 2000.

Annie's was a board member who freely dedicated her time and
collaborated in every effort to support this program and to help make
this program a successful me.

Leo Reynoso and friends don’t stop there.  They are also connectingg
Washington Heights kids to players like Victor Estrella, a Davis Cup
player from the Dominican Republic, who now teaches for the program as
a consultant.  They’ve also involved Johnson Garcia, the # 2 player in
DR who has maintained in touch with this program and shares his
experience about life in competitive tennis and how it feels to be on
the ‘tennis circuit’, traveling to different countries as a minority
player who comes from a small country without a lot of support or
tennis tradition.

Graduates of the Washington Heights Tennis Association have gone on to
win college scholarships like; Michael Castillo who now coaches for
Andy Rodick Academy, Irina Falconi ranked #2 in the east and #884 in
the WTA,  now a student at George Tech. Melissa Barba, #3 player for
Penn State and others are competing at high levels around the country
like Jonahiby Tauil age 16 and rank #21 in the east and #285 in the
nation.  Other youngsters have gained admission to special NYC high
schools like Beacon High School based on the tennis skills they
learned in the program.  Others have been able to teach in clubs and
get summer jobs due to their advanced tennis skills.  But, most
importantly, many young people who would never had the chance, are
participating in quality tennis and learning life lessons that they
will take with them for life.