ELEVEN-YEAR-OLD BRAD THOMAS had been wanting to learn to play tennis. Because there aren't any courts near his Champion home, his grandmother, Kathy Clementi of Warren, took him to Packard Park last week to hit some balls back and forth.
That's where they found the Marcus Garvey Institute of Awareness Community Tennis Association's summer tennis program.
"I told him it's a God thing," Clementi said. "He's been praying to learn how, and they just happened to be here."
Roland Battle, David Dukes and Abdu Awolowo, all of Warren, coach youths 7 to 17 each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at the park. This year's program runs through Aug. 23.
Another program for more advanced players of the same age group is Monday through Wednesday at Deemer Park. There's also an adult program Saturday mornings at Deemer Park.
Still growing
This marks the 13th year of the program, said Awolowo, chairman of the institute's board. About 50 children participate in the two youth programs, and Awolowo said it has been growing every year.
"It's a sport whole families can play," he said.
Awolowo got the idea for the program while coaching Little League baseball. One woman always came to her son's games and practices with her daughters in tow, prompting Awolowo to start a program in which the girls could participate along with their brother.
"You can play it for life and it's an inexpensive sport, relatively speaking," he said.
The institute has established tennis programs at Western Reserve, East and Harry B. Turner middle schools and hopes to schedule assemblies when school starts to get more pupils involved.
What it's like
Battle works with the children individually and as a group. Each session begins with a warm-up, followed by practice of forehand and backhand strokes, serves and then mini-matches.
If a player doesn't follow directions or goofs off, he might have to run laps around the court.
"I was really impressed with the way the coaches deal with the kids," Clementi said. "Sometimes in other sports there's a lot of screaming at the kids, but that doesn't happen here."
The late tennis star Arthur Ashe inspired the program, and Awolowo said the institute tries to instill some of the tennis great's values in participants.
"He said that for every hour you spend on the tennis court, you should spend three hours in the classroom," Awolowo said.
Word lists
Sonja Spencer of Warren, a senior math major at Oberlin College, selects a list of words each week for participants to write and define. They also learn facts about Warren and Trumbull County.
The words may deal with tennis, such as champion and preparation, or the children's behavior during that day's lesson, such as stubbornness and attitude."
Kyra Nall, 8, of Warren points to Marvin Logan, 10, as being responsible for the addition of stubbornness and attitude in a recent word list.
"Someone is always stubborn and had a bad attitude," she said, looking at Marvin, also of Warren.
Marvin, with a mischievous grin, swears it wasn't him.
Spencer got involved with the program at Awolowo's urging.
"He told me about the program and asked me to come out and put an academic part into it," Spencer said.
Favorite players
Many of the children point to Serena Williams as their favorite player. What about Serena's sister and frequent opponent on the court, Venus Williams?
"She lost," Kyra said. "I don't like her anymore."
Brad, who just started with the program last week, points to Andre Agassi as his favorite as he practices his forehand swing.
He plans to keep playing with whomever is willing to face him on the court.
"I'm doing pretty well," he said. "I always wanted to play tennis."

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