Tennis Memphis operates seven city-owned tennis centers under a management contract with the city of Memphis. As a nonprofit organization, Tennis Memphis focuses on building a better community and enhancing lives through tennis education. The organization is heavily invested in youth development, but it’s not just about teaching the game of tennis. Many of the programs it operates also teach life skills and provide other educational opportunities including schoolwork tutoring to go along with tennis lessons.
For Arnold Thompson, director of outreach and community development for Tennis Memphis, part of his job is to focus on introducing the game of tennis to a community that typically focuses on basketball and football first. “We like to get a kid going in the game. If they enjoy it, we can put them on a pathway of development that can lead all the way to a college scholarship,” he said. “Part of my job is developing tennis as something that’s thought of in Memphis among families and kids.”
That work includes placing tennis paraphernalia in various community centers around the city, particularly where kids don’t typically think of the sport. The tennis centers the organization operates are spread across the city, from Frayser to Whitehaven. “We focus all over the city,” Thompson said. “And we focus a lot on bringing tennis to underserved populations. This isn’t about money.”
While tennis might have a privileged reputation, Thompson said it’s his organization’s responsibility to introduce the game to as many people in the city as possible. That means no one is turned away because of an inability to pay. Fees are already low, but a sliding scale makes programs available to everyone. Many kids pay nothing to participate; 80 percent of those in the six-week summer camps are on scholarships or pay reduced rates. “Part of our whole philosophy is we’re about equalizing tennis and taking it out of the realm of the privileged,” Thompson said.
Tennis Memphis is a 4-star chapter member of the USTA National Junior Tennis & Learning Network, one of only about 30 of 350 chapters to attain the highest status. That status has been earned through years of reaching a high number of kids and offering an array of programs and educational components that include various life skills. It’s a status earned despite facing a funding challenge, especially considering much of the programming is offered free or at reduced rates. Tennis Memphis works hard to make a difference in the community, and it’s more than just helping students become better tennis players.
“We have a lot of success stories of lives we’ve affected,” Thompson said. “We have kids who find themselves through tennis. They weren’t familiar with their bodies and what they could do with them. We have kids who come out of their shells. We teach kids about responsibility.”
Tennis Memphis offerings include a summer camp, after-school junior development sessions, tennis and tutoring, and a variety of tennis outreach programs across the community. There also are adult programs. Anyone interested in donating or participating as a volunteer can find more information at tennismemphis.org, not to mention details about how and where to play and learn the game of tennis.
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