Cement Slab to Booming Tennis Program: White Springs Receives USTA Florida Grant
The Town of White Springs, Fla., located between Lake City and the Georgia state border, received a USTA Florida ‘Share the Love’ grant in June, comprised of QuickStart Tennis equipment to begin a summer program for area children. Spencer Lofton, White Springs’ summer youth enrichment program director, says he expects program participants to top out at approximately 75 children — which is roughly 10% of the town’s total population of 760.
Local teaching pro Tom Moore will instruct the local juniors, many of whom are trying tennis for the first time, and has secured a local company to donate asphalt to re-pave an existing slab of concrete to create a tennis court and mini-courts for QuickStart Tennis.
“Our new mayor, Helen Miller, received a grant for the H.O.P.E. (Helping Our People Excel) Summer Enrichment Program, and I volunteered to teach tennis if we were able to get a grant for the equipment,” said Moore, outlining the challenges of the small town. “White Springs is a town that is 1.2 square miles in area, bordered on two sides by the Suwannee River, with two blinking lights and a per capita income of around $12,000.”
Dr. Helen Miller was elected the first-ever woman mayor earlier this year, coincidentally spurred on to run for office by a home break-in that eventually led to…a tennis program.
“The Summer Youth Enrichment Program was founded by the mayor after her house was robbed,” Lofton said. “After an investigation into the robbery, she found out there were little after-school activities in White Springs to keep children occupied and out of trouble. She went down to the courthouse and checked through all the proceedings and she found out that there was really nothing for the children to do after school. There was nothing to do on the weekend and there were certainly no summer programs. She wanted to change all that so she ran for city council and she got elected mayor. Along with the H.O.P.E. Committee she supports all sorts of programs, such as the Workforce One programs which helps find jobs for teens in the summertime, so we’re also getting those kids to work with the smaller kids in the tennis and the Summer Youth Enrichment Program.”
Moore taught part-time in Miami before relocating to White Springs, and recently attended a USTA Florida QuickStart Tennis workshop in Gainesville, specially-designed for teaching pros, parents, and other instructors working with 10-and-under children. QuickStart Tennis is the USTA-approved format for teaching children age 10-and-under, featuring smaller court sizes, racquet sizes, foam and decompressed balls, a simple scoring system, and net heights adjusted to ease kids into the sport. Moore also teaches tennis in nearby Lake City, but relocated from Miami to White Springs for its small-town appeal.
“The main economic appeal is eco-tourism, with the State of Florida Tourism Center here in town and two state parks — Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center and Big & Little Shoals State Park,” said Moore, who has rallied plenty of help for the tennis program, along with local city officials and staff. “I also have a teaching pro that lives in White Springs that is willing to assist in this program.”
Now that the ball is rolling in regard to multiple sports programs for White Springs children over the summer, the nearby Stephen Foster Memorial Park has donated buildings to the summer program, and officials are working on getting a multi-purpose building authorized for their ultimate goal — a year-round after-school program offering tennis and other sports.
“Hamilton County is the poorest per capita income county in the state of Florida and the 35th poorest in the country, and the fact they are interested in offering tennis to the kids in the community is fantastic,” said USTA Florida Associate Executive Director, Play Tennis Division, Andy McFarland. “It will be really inspiring to see how tennis is going to change the culture of the White Springs community. With the big-hearted efforts of people like Tom Moore, Spencer Lofton and Mayor Helen Miller, the town of White Springs is going to be a tennis community. It is exciting to play a part in their tennis future.”
Funding for the White Springs grant comes from the USTA Florida ‘Share the Love’ campaign, a $500,000 initiative on top of the organizations’ regular annual giving to help fund tennis programs and projects throughout Florida communities during challenging economic times. For more information go to www.USTASharetheLove.com