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Making a Difference: The START Program

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Osborne High School tennis players

By Emmy Powell, Net News editor

Whenever a volunteer or community leader has an opportunity to reach out and try to make a difference, especially in the lives of young people, it can inspire others to do the same. That message is at the heart of the ALTA Foundation, which each year takes a close look at the programs it supports to identify which ones might need additional help and where else they may be able to provide support. In 2019, the foundation realized it provides widespread assistance throughout a variety of programs for persons with special needs and disabilities. Additionally, the foundation discovered that it supports programs for children with financial needs in elementary school and middle school, but not high school.

From that review, the idea of funding a pilot program to support Tennis in Title 1 high schools was then formed. “We discovered that several high schools had athletes competing on varsity teams who had little to no tennis experience,” said Candace Cole, ALTA Foundation secretary. “We were surprised to find that many of the athletes had to borrow school equipment in order to participate.” By providing and paying for a certified tennis pro as a community coach to assist the schools’ coaches, the foundation could assist in laying the groundwork for the basic tennis skills and strategy. Additionally, the ALTA Foundation donated $1,500 to each of the school programs to use toward the tennis programs’ expenses.

In determining which schools to help in the pilot program, foundation leaders reached out to the athletic directors for each of the counties in which ALTA serves. Cobb County quickly responded with two high schools that were extremely interested in participating. Next, after numerous emails and phone calls, the foundation identified two certified teaching pros, Darrio Williams and Jackie Jenkins, who were interested in the program and willing to undergo background checks and attend GHSA community coaches’ training. We are excited to report that Coach Williams started coaching at Osborne High School in January, and Coach Jenkins began working with the student athletes at Pebblebrook High School near the end of February.

Each community coach is provided in order to partner with each schools’ dedicated head coach and offer hands-on tennis instruction to all of the tennis team members. Bruce Nichol is the Osborne High School head coach for the boys’ tennis team, while Danene Womack heads up Osborne’s girls’ tennis program. Thomas Lacy is the head varsity tennis coach for both squads at Pebblebrook. The foundation is excited to be able to assist both schools and their dedicated coaches through the new START program.

To help kickstart the program, the foundation held a racquet and equipment drive for all of the athletes during the Fall 2019 ALTA City Finals. The ALTA members’ support for the START program over that one-week drive was overwhelming, and the foundation was thrilled to receive tennis bags, cases of balls, and more than 50 racquets. The racquet drive also helped to create another connection — an ALTA coordinator, while working at City Finals, offered to help connect her friend (and fellow tennis player) who works at Tennis Warehouse with the foundation. They knew the two groups could do something extra for the START program participants.

Tennis Warehouse stepped up and has provided all of the START athletes a very generous donation — tennis shoes! “Several of these high school players were playing in basketball shoes, or vans and the like,” says Cole. “Being able to play in shoes made for tennis will make a huge difference for them.” Additionally, Tennis Warehouse donated some new, freshly strung Prince racquets that were needed to supplement the racquets donated by ALTA members. “Tennis Warehouse’s donation to the ALTA Foundation’s START program was beyond our expectations. We are very grateful, and the high school kids love their new tennis shoes,” says ALTA Foundation President Diana Burger.

The ALTA Foundation will be monitoring each school’s progress this season and is hopeful the pilot program of START will be a complete success. If that holds true, the goal will be to continue to support these teams and eventually expand the program to Title 1 schools in the various counties served by ALTA.