| By Matthew Cohen
Photo credit: Matthew Cohen

New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) hosted its Annual 8 & Under Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in early December. Ninety underprivileged children from seven winter Community Tennis Programs (CTPs) and 18 elementary schools located throughout the five boroughs gathered for the annual event.

“My favorite thing about the weekend tournaments is that we get students coming from all over the City, from different types of programming, to play in a citywide event,” said Jessica Bailey, senior director of education for NYJTL.

“We started the Play Days back in 2010, and since the implementation of the 10 & Under tournaments, we are able to bring some friendly/healthy competition to the program. Instead of skill competitions: Bouncing balls, keeping the ball on the racquet, relay races, etc., we are doing something that feels and looks like tennis,” said Ron Nano, general manager of the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning, NYJTL’s new $26.5 million tennis and community center in Crotona Park, scheduled to open in early 2015.

Thirty staff members, including on-site directors, coaches, volunteers and group leaders, along with 10 volunteers, gathered on three courts where the children were broken up into age groups ranging from eight- to five-years-old.

“I’m having a blast! It’s a great place to learn and make some new friends,” said seven-year-old William Thitithamasak, who wants to be a tennis player when he grows up and has been playing tennis for three years at the NTC, Whitestone Tennis Center and Roosevelt Island.

The structure of the round-robin tournament was that each kid in their respective age group plays one another to five and the player with the highest point total wins on that court.

“We are elevating the tennis aspect today and starting to teach the kids that it’s okay to loose and that you’re not going to get a medal or a trophy every time,” said Scott Daly, manager of community tennis for NYJTL. “First, second and third place get medals, and the rest get great long sleeved sweatshirts and certificates of completion.”

“It’s a great start for the 10 & Under tournaments, as parents come out and see the hard work their kids put in … this is the fruition here,” said Gary Davis, who has been with NYJTL since 2003 and is currently a coach at PS 191 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Medal winners from the event:

Five-Year-Old Division
1. Roaa Youseff
2. Tadija Maslo
3. Emmanuel Akilov

Six-Year-Old Division
1. Leif Emery
2. Mane Kostic
3. Richard Cuamani

Seven-Year-Old Division
1. Jadah Bentham
2. Ahshar Sabard
3. Jesse Vasquez

Eight-Year-Old Division
1. Strahinga Maslo
2. Henry Cuamani
3. Gabrella Gerstman (tied)
3. Benjamin Akilov (tied)

Credit all photos to Matthew Cohen