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USTA Southern California
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Tennis Journey Begins At Aliso Pico Recreation Center

Philip Siordia, along with Dan and Greg Gonzales, stand behind the Proyecto Pastoral IMPACTO After-School Program participants.
There was a lot of interest in learning about tennis.
Dan Gonzales talked about grips.
The clinic provided an introduction to the game.

Southern California Tennis Service Representative, Philip Siordia was about to stage a tennis clinic at the Aliso Pico Recreation Center in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Dan and Greg Gonzales, the son and nephew respectively of tennis legend Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez, were lending a hand. They are founders of The Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez Youth Foundation, an organization that is committed to promoting tennis for youngsters everywhere, including non-traditional participants such as minorities, immigrants and economically challenged players.  Apropos to the goal, Boyle Heights is a predominantly Latino, heavily immigrant community where one in four families lives below the federal poverty level.

The bright sun glared off the court that really wasn’t a court. That was because it didn’t have a net and it was probably very seldom used for the purpose it had been intended.  But, in just a little over an hour Siordia transformed it, using portable nets and colorful exercise stations complete with youth-sized racquets. 

When the twenty eager second and third graders taking part in the Proyecto Pastoral’s IMPACTO After-School Program arrived, Siordia and the Gonzales’ greeted them. Crouching down to speak to the participants at eye level, Dan Gonzales explained that his father, who is considered one of the best to ever play tennis, worked on his game at Exposition Park, which in those days was located near where the Sports Arena currently exists.  Despite his lack of formal training, Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez became a local, national and international tennis tournament sensation, whose success earned him a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Could there be a more fitting role model for inner city youngsters, many of whom had likely never even heard of tennis before?

Siordia served as a co-instructor for the afternoon of fun in the sun.  Proyecto staff and recreation center volunteers assisted at the skills stations.  The court exploded with activity.  The underserved IMPACTO Program participants progressed through the skill stations learning how to move and hold a racquet before practicing ball handling.  Then it was time to try to hit the ball over the net. As is always the case with something completely new, some were able to do it and some were not, but everyone had a great introduction to tennis and a wonderful time.

After almost two hours, the clinic drew to a close.  Gift tote bags, filled with tennis balls and other mementos, were presented to each child, but not before Siordia shared a little bit of his own story, which began in a similar inner city community then led to a college tennis scholarship and eventually culminated with his current involvement with the SCTA. 

Did the clinic generate a spark in the participants along with an interest in learning to play?  If the enthusiastic sharing of what they’d discovered was any indication, the answer is certainly - Yes.  Before leaving, one boy pointed to the net and asked, “So when are we going to get one of those?”

By the end of the day, the clinic was the first opportunity for those in the Proyecto Pastoral’s IMPACTO After-School Program to discover tennis, and it was also the beginning of their journey into the game.

Marlene Stang



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