ROTTERDAM -- Tennis non-profit 15-LOVE held its inaugural Tennis-a-Thon on Saturday to support its mission to bring education and well-being to inner-city kids through the game of tennis.
15-LOVE Program Director Domingo Montes said the organization’s motto is to “use tennis to teach the game of life.” The program operates in Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Rensselaer, and Montes estimated 6,000 to 7,000 kids participate throughout the Capital Region.
For the Tennis-a-Thon fundraiser, participating kids obtained sponsors who donated money for each of 50 serves made by the youths at tennis nights throughout the week. Saturday’s event, the first of the campaign, was held at Sportime in Schenectady. Other events will be held at facilities throughout the Capital Region.
Montes said he got his start with 15-LOVE as a 12-year-old participant, and the organization helped steer him toward college and a degree, despite living in a place where making good decisions wasn’t always easy.
“Our mission is to reach kids in the inner city using tennis as our medium, our hook,” said Montes.
Tennis is an ideal vehicle because the vast majority of matches are recreational, with no official to call shots as in or out, said Montes. He added that the sport promotes communication and fairness in competition.
“It’s a very sportsmanlike sport,” said Montes. “It’s great because it really helps kids understand that, even though they might be in competition with each other, they have to be polite and fair.”
The sport also teaches conflict resolution and the importance of peer communication.
“In the inner city, you see a lot of little things happen that boil over into something big,” said Montes. “In tennis, you have to internalize those things and move on, or else you’re going to lose the match. How are you going to come out of this situation? That’s what we’re trying to teach kids.”
For 10-year-old Noah Spivey, of Schenectady, the best part about learning the game of tennis is playing doubles.
“It’s fun to play, and you can can mostly play all year, so that’s good, too," he said. "I’m learning how to hit my backhand harder.”
15-LOVE is a member of the United States Tennis Association, which is a major sponsor of the group, along with local businesses and schools. The organization, in its 26th year, holds USTA certified tournaments throughout the year and also takes part in the association’s official tournaments. Kids participate for free.
Montes, now 37, said one of the great things about 15-LOVE is the love of tennis it instills in kids at a young age, a love that endures well into their college years and beyond. He said that, often, as was the case for him, 15-LOVE alumni come back and volunteer or work for the organization. Some contact 15-LOVE about setting up a similar program in whatever city they live in.
“They’re also giving back during college to homeless shelters and the needy, and once they have kids, they’re going to be teaching them to give back, as well,” said Montes.
He added that 15-LOVE also stresses the importance of getting good grades in school, and that the vast majority of participants graduate high school and go on to earn college degrees.
For Alyana Leandry, 15, of Latham, the organization is a huge part of her life. She’s participated in 15-LOVE for the past seven years and said she can’t imagine not playing the game.
“I just believe tennis is a part of who I am right now. It wouldn’t be the same if I ended it,” she said.
Leandry plans to attend college for computer science at either Rutgers University or Stanford University. She credits her drive to attend college in part to participating in 15-LOVE.
“With the program itself, we’ve been taught how to respect each other and how important education is to 15-LOVE,” said Leandry, who plans to continue participating in the organization while in college. “The priority is to maintain good grades.”
David Ceniza, of Albany, who has four kids in the program ranging in age from 7 to 13, said he’s seen the difference 15-LOVE has made in his children's lives.
“They’re doing good; they love the program,” he said. “They’ve improved a lot. They know how to communicate and get along with other kids. I think they’re more disciplined than they used to be.”
More information about 15-LOVE and the Tennis-a-Thon can be found on the organization’s website at www.15LOVE.org.