Hector Henry: Cricket + Soccer = Tennis

Hector Henry 1Tennis wasn’t the first sport Hector Henry fell in love with, nor the second. As a child in Jamaica in the 1940’s he and his friends spent many long hours playing cricket and soccer. He was even so gifted at soccer that he earned a spot on the Jamaican national team and later went on to play semi-professionally in the United States.

“In Jamaica, at that time, tennis was an upper class sport,” Henry explains. “But when I moved to the States, more people were playing it here.”

With his soccer career behind him, Henry enrolled at Brooklyn College and competed on the tennis team. After graduating, he coached the school’s men’s and women’s teams from 1983 to 1992, as well as several professional Jamaican players.

Two of the first things he noticed about tennis were parallels with the games he grew up with. The groundstrokes were similar to swinging a cricket bat and the running reminded him of soccer. His athleticism translated from the field to the court.

In the early 1990’s be began his NYJTL tenure, shifting his focus from elite professionals to youth players. For the last 17 years, he has been the director of NYJTL’s Linden Park site in Brooklyn, which currently serves 162 kids, ages 5 to 18, from all different skill levels, including special education students. During the winter, he directs NYJTL’s Early Morning Winter Program at the Heights Casino indoor courts in Brooklyn Heights.

“Because of my experience, I work a lot with the advanced and intermediate groups, and some of them have metro rankings,” Henry says. “But we also teach beginners whose parents just want them doing something constructive.”

Located in East New York, NYJTL’s Linden Park program attracts many low- and middle-income families from diverse backgrounds, including African, Caribbean, Hispanic and Asian.

“It’s a challenge to compete with the most popular sports like soccer, basketball and football,” Henry says. “But tennis is becoming more accessible to kids and NYJTL has done a wonderful job bringing it to communities like this.”

Henry notes the recent growth in the program among his youngest group (5- to 9-year-olds) and Hispanic youth. “It’s tied to Nadal’s success,” he says. “He’s an exciting player and they want to be like him.”

On a recent afternoon, one of Henry’s former NYJTL players stopped by Linden Park to visit. She was one of the dozens of players who earned a college scholarship thanks, in part, to his coaching. Those are the successes that make him most proud. “It’s a wonderful thing,” he says with a smile.

Maria Sanz: “Love” at First Sight

Maria Sanz

Maria Sanz has been both a student of New York Junior Tennis & Learning and a teacher to young students picking up a racket for the first time.

Based on the suggestion from her softball coach, Maria joined one of NYJTL’s free community tennis programs near her home in the Rockaways when she was 10 years old. She immediately developed a strong love for the sport.

“I fell in love the first time I picked up a racket,” she says. “I kept making new friends and I liked playing tennis.”

Thirteen years later, you can find Maria serving as an NYJTL tennis specialist at PS 42 in Far Rockaway, about two miles from her home. A 2013 graduate of Brooklyn College with a degree in Psychology, she has worked with the nonprofit since 2009.

Maria is an avid athlete. She has played softball throughout her life and can still be spotted on weekends in center field. She also works out, runs and enjoys bowling.

Back in 2009 she suffered an injury that sidelined her from softball and during that time she reconnected with tennis. It was a blessing in disguise. Maria went on to play tennis for four years at Brooklyn College. During that time she served as Captain and CUNYAC All-Star for three years. In 2013 she won the CUNYAC Sportsmanship Award and was an Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar.

Maria now works with about 90 students from kindergarten to fifth grade at PS 42, teaching them about teamwork and good sportsmanship. “They do a lot of work with partners so they learn to work with each other and help each other out,” she says.

She most enjoys seeing them progress – as players and as persons. She says, “Sometimes they may not be able to hit the ball at all or consistently, but then they return and they are able to do something they were not able to before!”

Jeff Lawrence Prepares Bronx Youth for Mayors Cup

Beginning May 30, over 600 boys and girls from across New York City will compete in the nation’s largest scholastic tennis event: NYJTL’s 27th Annual Mayors Cup All-Scholastic Championship. Eight of those young players attend PS 100 in the Bronx, where they’ve learned the game under the tutelage of NYJTL Activity Specialist Jeff Lawrence. Jeff Lawerence

A native of the Soundview section of the Bronx, Jeff began playing tennis at age 13, when he joined NYJTL’s community program at the Bronx International Youth Tennis Center.

“I liked tennis immediately,” he says. “My coaches showed me the ropes and they were really positive. Some of them are still at NYJTL today, which is cool.”

Jeff went on to play varsity tennis at Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, and attended Lehman College. But NYJTL was never far from his heart. He began working with kids in the summer program at Bronx International, and then became an assistant coach in the afterschool Aces Club program at PS 100.

Today, as an Activity Specialist, he teaches tennis, healthy living skills, science and literacy, and more to over 100 first-through-fifth-graders each year, including the 21 students who participate on the school’s tournament team. From that group, the top eight players will compete in this year’s Mayors Cup – and that means extra practice. To prepare for the tournament, Jeff has been taking the players to the spot where he first fell in love with tennis, Bronx International, for weekend practice sessions.

“At this point, we’re working on things like technique, positioning and strategy,” he says. “Our top three players want to win the Mayors Cup. For the others, the main goal is to get some good experience.”

While he enjoys coaching the tournament team, Jeff knows that tennis has an important role in the character development of all the kids he works with in the Aces Club.

“With TV and video games today, kids are used to instant gratification,” he says. “Learning how to play tennis is a process. We teach kids the importance of being patient, and not getting frustrated if they can’t do something right away.”

The Mayors Cup runs from May 30 to June 7, and will be held in two locations: the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows and at the new Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in the Crotona Park in the South Bronx. For more information, click here.


Athneal Philip: A Recipe for Success

Athneal Philip used to serve up meals. Now he’s serving up success.

Athneal is a tennis coach and site director at New York Junior Tennis and Learning. The Queens resident works with elementary students in the after-school ACES program at PS 215 in Gravesend, Brooklyn.

“This is an important program in New York City,” he says. “There’s lot of parents who really don’t have the finances available to be able to afford to teach their kids tennis and have them play on courts. The ACES program allows the parents to work while their kids have a place to go.”

Athneal was employed as a chef at hotels in Antigua for years, before moving to Wayne, Pennsylvania in 2001, and then New York City a year later. In Antigua, he had worked as an assistant tennis coach as well, and continued to coach in the United States.

“I love the game of tennis,” he says. “I started when I was nine years old and I’ve been playing every since.”

Athneal first started with NYJTL nine years ago, working part-time in the afternoons as a tennis coach at PS 19 in Corona, Queens. “I love to see kids play tennis, the smiles on their faces when they hit a ball over the net, especially the young ones,” he says.

Additionally, he works with NYJTL’s Community Tennis Programs, serving as a site director at the Manhattan Plaza site, and coaching at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, too. This summer, he will be at Manhattan Plaza and Brandeis High School.

He enjoys watching youngsters learn and grow in the after-school program.

“I think it’s a good program; its helps the family,” he says. “The kids are not just sitting there, but they are learning something valuable they can take with them the rest of their lives.”

And, he still enjoys cooking dishes reflecting all ethnicities. “In the Caribbean, you have to cook international dishes because you have visitors from all over the world,” he says, “so I like to cook everything.”

Rodney Dinkins: Making a Difference in Kids’ Lives

Rodney Dinkins has traveled the world extensively.

“The only place I have not been yet is the Far East,” says Dinkins, a former Account Manager for British Airways. “You meet different people, and see different ways of life.”

The satisfaction he achieves by his global encounters mirrors the joy he experiences at home. As a Tennis Coach for NYJTL’s ACES After-school Program, Dinkins has met countless students from all walks of life.IMG_447958285

“I love tennis, and I really like kids. I find it very gratifying being around them,” he says.

His Senior Tennis Program Manager, York Chu, says Dinkins really connects with the kids.

“He is super into bettering the life of any kid he comes in contact with through tennis or any walk of life. He has a great heart,” he says.

Dinkins has worked with NYJTL for much of the last decade, and says he stumbled up on it by chance. He had been independently teaching tennis, and happened to be passing a tennis court where an instructor was incorrectly teaching a skill to youngsters.

He approached the site director to ask to help, and the director jumped at the chance, noting the challenge she faced in recruiting someone to come to Staten Island to instruct kids.

“So I volunteered,” said Dinkins, who was born on Staten Island and still lives there. “I was invited to be the instructor, and then became site director for two years at Port Richmond High School.”

He later was transferred to the program at P.S. 302 in East New York, and then P.S. 250 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he has now worked for the last three years. Each week, he helps about 100 students – in kindergarten through fifth grade – with their homework, and then leads them in warm-ups and tennis drills.

He points out many kids don’t think they can run fast, so he holds races and awards prizes, and tells them that “even if you aren’t the fastest runner, you can compete.”

Working with the children year-round, he watches them grow and prosper, bringing a smile to his face. “Watching kids blossom like a flower is a great thing,” he says. “They build confidence, self-esteem.”

NYJTL is dramatically changing their lives, he says. “Schools today don’t have a big physical fitness component,” he says. “So a lot of them would be at home playing with their thumbs. I hope programs like this are always available to children.”

Joyce M. Short: Pioneering Athlete, Coach and Role Model

Few things thrill Joyce Short more than watching the kids she coaches at the Roosevelt Island Community Tennis Program learn and grow.  But there’s added significance for her when she sees girls, in particular, excel.

Joyce grew up before the 1972 Title IX legislation created equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports. She played tennis and competed in citywide tournaments as a one- and three-meter springboard diver in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. She was the City Champion in the 16-and-under category. But her high school had no varsity teams for girls. As a University of Georgia co-ed, she was only allowed to use the diving board in the “men’s pool,” two hours per week.

Today, Joyce relishes the opportunity to be a role model for all young people, but especially girls. “I hope that the fact that I’m here coaching as a female athlete will speak volumes to them about their potential,” she says.IMG_8183

So it’s no surprise that even with a busy career in the business world – which included a position as Salomon Brothers’ first ever female bond trader – she has continually made time to coach youth sports.

In 1988, she was coaching a little league team and giving private tennis lessons when a youngster on Roosevelt Island asked her to start a youth program.  She agreed, and the next day he came back with 35 of his friends, eager to learn the game.

Two years later, Skip Hartman opened the Roosevelt Island Racquet Club and enlisted her to create a NYJTL program.  Every year since, Joyce has directed the club’s NYJTL winter program, and has run the other seasonal programs as often as her other job responsibilities have allowed.

For the most part, she says, the kids today are the same as they have always been, with one noticeable difference: “With the Internet and cable TV, they now follow professional tennis a lot more, which is great because it makes them even more motivated to play.”

Joyce’s current role is wide ranging.  As the Site Director, she manages a staff of three, creates the curriculum, and instructs youngsters who come to the program from all over the city at 6:00am on Saturdays and Sundays.  As NYJTL’s District Developer for Manhattan and Eastern Queens, she recruits schools and helps them to incorporate tennis into their physical education curriculums.

“If we can get kids bitten by the tennis bug while we have a captive audience in school gyms, there’s a better chance they’ll be motivated to come out and participate in the programming that will enable them to build their skills and become lifelong players,” she says.
Despite her many responsibilities, Joyce always makes sure to have time on the court, teaching the game that she has loved for over sixty years to the next generation of players.

“We teach the kids tennis, but also skills that they can apply in the real world,” Joyce says.  “In a sense, we’re building character one point at a time.”