Jlea Jackson

J'lea Jackson watches the tennis ball after hitting it during a drill at the TEACH & INSPIRE tennis program at Dolly Graham Park. (Linda Younkin)

Cynthia Elliott saw a need and a sport that could help fill it.

Elliott is the executive director of SOCKS (Save Our Children Keep them Safe), a nonprofit organization that is sponsoring a TEACH & INSPIRE junior tennis program for underserved youth.

The program is teaching tennis to youth attending the Kings Center and Dolly Graham Park summer program in South Frankfort. The program has about 60 children ages 7-16.

This is the first year for the TEACH & INSPIRE program, which is taking place every Thursday afternoon at Dolly Graham Park until Aug. 1.

“We’re teaching them how to handle a racquet and control the ball,” Elliott said. “We want to make it something they’ll do for life. They’ve been excited about it.”

The tennis program is four weeks long, and participants are using racquets from the Kings Center.

TEACH & INSPIRE is an acronym for Teaching Excellence in Athletics, Character and Health, and Inspiring, Nurturing, Sportsmanship, Physical Improvement, Resilience and Enthusiasm, and the purpose of the program is to not only teach tennis but to help build character, improve fitness and change the trajectory of lives of children in underserved communities.

“Students in rural areas and urban areas, tennis is not as available to them as other sports like basketball or football,” Elliott said. “Tennis can help in academics. Studies have shown that people who play tennis tend to do better in school.”

When Frankfort Independent Schools begins classes on Aug. 1, the tennis program may become an after-school activity for children who are interested in the sport.

David Hartsek, of Lexington, is serving as a volunteer instructor.

He began using a wheelchair after an injury when he was 16, and he started playing wheelchair tennis when he was 30.

“I fell in love with the game,” he said.

Since that time, he’s been sharing his enthusiasm with others.

He’s been a licensed USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) teaching pro, served on the USTA-Kentucky board for 10 years, has been a member of the USTA Southern Section for 12 years and served on the USTA National Wheelchair Committee for two years.

He’s worked for parks and recreation departments in several cities, including Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati, and seeing children’s improvement in tennis has been a high point.

“It’s very satisfying to see the kids from where they begin a program and where they end,” he said.

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