“We’re at the forefront,” said longtime local tennis instructor and enthusiast Butch Dixon.
Steve Prangley, a USTA representative also associated with the Southern Crescent Youth Tennis and Education Foundation, brought program to Spalding County last month. A first wave of training took place when five schools have had teachers, along with some principals, go through training.
Wednesday morning a second wave of nearly 30 instructors went through a training session at Cowan Road Elementary School
“Spalding County will be the first school district in the state of Georgia where every elementary school in the district has the program up and operational,” Prangley said. “Even in the whole City of Atlanta they have only 15 schools that are participating, which is a very small percentage of schools.”
The schools have also received equipment to outfit 30 children with tennis equipment ranging from nets, rackets, balls, and training aids at no cost to the local school system.
“We issue each school about $2,500 worth of equipment, and when you tie in the cost of training that we provide for every teacher it runs to about $3,000 per school,” said Prangley. “What happened in the past is a lot of schools take the equipment and it just goes in the closet. The way we’re doing here is the school system commits that’ they’ll use the equipment, if we provide the equipment and provide the training, they use it for what it’s intended and make sure it’s a success.”
The program, however, is far from juts a local one.
“In Georgia, the programs have been rolled out in Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta and here as well as Columbus and most of the major metropolitan areas ,” said Prangley, who is responsible for implementing the program in Clayton, Henry, Fayette and Coweta as well as Spalding Counties. “There is no place that’s doing it quite like this where the whole school system is signing up for it.”
Through it all, however, the foundation has never lost sight of the program’s initial goal which is better health for a new generation.
“The primary focus it to improve fitness and wellness of children in America,” said Prangley.
With this program the USTA has partnered with the NFL’s Play 60 Program and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign.
“The basic background behind it is to help combat the childhood obesity problem we have in America,” said Prangley. “Tennis has been recognized by both the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic as one of the best possible sports that you can get young people active and away from a sedentary lifestyle.
“It improves their fitness and their outlook on life because tennis as a sports provides all the things that are needed,” added Prangley. “It teaches sportsmanship, improves agility and balance — it sort of just makes them well rounded kids.”
The benefits of tennis are many.
“The thing that’s nice about tennis with young kids is they do not have to be a superstar,” said Prangley. “The thing that’s nice for families is it’s affordable — this whole program is being provided to the schools free of cost. For families where the children want to get involved with tennis as a kind of follow-up, we have a discounted equipment program.”
Prangley also said another benefit is it could be played with as few as two players.
The program will be showcased for the public to see during a “play-day” from 10 a.m., to 12 noon on March 16 at the Griffin City Park tennis courts. The event will be open to the public with free registration for players interested in under 10 tennis.