FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- "Tennis is a great sport with important lessons for the game of life."
The words of Richard Brown framed a beautifully crafted event on a gorgeous spring morning, as over 650 inner-city kids rode school buses to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Thursday, May 26, for the 13th annual "Say Yes to Tennis, Say No to Violence" Day.
As Brown, the Queens District Attorney, shook hands with chaperones and children alike as they entered through the South Entrance of the tennis center grounds, he was reminded of the work his team puts in year-round and what many do not see happening behind the scenes.
"This event culminates our year-long 'STAR Track' program in which we employ 20 QDA staffers and seven members of the New York City Corporation Counsel's Office," said Brown. "We visited nine Far Rockaway schools, from elementary school through high school, to talk about the risk of drugs, guns, gangs and how to make the right choices.
"Today is meant to encourage our young people to choose sports as a positive alternative to violence."
The aforementioned "STAR Track" programming -- an acronym translated to "Straight Talk About Risks" -- builds self-esteem and drives down crime rates in at-risk areas.
The thought process behind installing tennis into the curriculum? According to Brown and company, sports prove that you can keep kids off the streets, keep them physically confident and improve their overall quality of life.
"Our challenge and goal is to teach them that tennis, aside from being a fun activity, is an enriching, self-improving activity that can be applied to all aspects of life and can give them the confidence to succeed," said Brown.
Teaming up with Brown was former USTA Board of Directors member and New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins, who spent most of his morning taking pictures and talking tennis with excited kids clad in white t-shirts. After taking their team photo, each grade set off to grab foam balls and junior racquets to try their hand at 10 and Under Tennis featuring the QuickStart Tennis format before a midday lunch.
As the youngsters wrapped up rallying and relay races on the courts, Dinkins looked out to the bleachers and saw many impressionable children. The sight brought him back to his own childhood as he took to the microphone for the day's closing ceremonies.
"You have a wonderful road of opportunity ahead of you," said Dinkins, who grew up in Harlem. "But don't be afraid of others because they might look different than you or dress different than you. Don't be a bully. Don't give each other a hard time. Be a friend."
The 13th annual "Say Yes to Tennis, Say No to Violence" Day featured several influential schools and partnerships. Participating schools in 2011 included the Frederick Douglas Academy VI and Public Schools 333, 215, 197, 106, 104, 43 and 42.
The event was sponsored by the USTA, the New York Junior Tennis League, the New York City Department of Education and the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.