FLORENCE, S.C. — Some Florence kids who might not otherwise have gotten a chance to try tennis are now getting that chance — and on a regular basis.

“Ernie James and I founded this to try to find a way to bring the kids whose parents can’t afford lessons and to be involved in tennis on a regular basis … “ said Paul Pittman, a board member of Florence Tennis Association and director of the Ron James Youth Tennis Program.

FLORENCE, S.C. — Some Florence kids who might not otherwise have gotten a chance to try tennis are now getting that chance — and on a regular basis.

Pittman and several other tennis coaches were on hand at the Dr. Eddie Floyd Florence Tennis Center Wednesday afternoon to teach more than 20 students from Girls University who turned out for a weather-shortened tennis lesson.

“We started pulling this together about two years ago but really got on course this summer,” Pittman said.

This is the first after-school session the group has done, though it did some summer sessions.

Pittman said the organization was working with students from Girls University, the Boys and Girls Club and, when COVID passed, the city of Florence after-school program.

“Mr. Paul was gracious enough during our summer camp that he allowed us to come twice a week during summer camp and they really enjoyed it and he was able to continue for an after-school program,” said Melanie Collins with Girls University.

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The organization has 26 students enrolled, though because of homework demands only 22 were on hand Wednesday.

“They’re dong basic group lessons and they’re doing introduction to tennis and they’re loving it,” Pittman said.

Youth lessons have changed over the years and now no longer use adult-tennis anything but the courts.

“We are using equipment that is age appropriate, balls that bounce to the right height for the age group and training techniques that are designed for kids in these particular age groups,” Pittman said. “All this was the work of the UTA improving outreach to kids.”

“All of our coaches working with this program area all very experienced, very capable and very good at relating to kids and that’s crucial,” Pittman said. “We’re trying to give them coaches who are both good instructors and good role models.”

The group’s goal goes well beyond just tennis.

“We’re trying to combine with organizations that do academic work because eventually we want to start doing some academic work as well with kids,” Pittman said.

“We’re part of the national junior tennis and learning network and our mission will be to use tennis as a vehicle to incentivize kids to do better academically and at the same time give them some of the great life lessons you have in tennis to try to make their lives better,” Pittman said.

The tennis center is a public park and Pittman said the group has made arrangements so the students can request equipment at the front desk to play whenever they want to, even after their session may be over.

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