Families learn tennis together through program
Karlee Marrero, 7, and her mother Melissa Griffin practice a tennis drill on the courts. Childres are taught the basics of tennis in the USTA program.

FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Gloria Dean has always loved tennis, whether playing the game herself with family and friends or watching professional athletes like Arthur Ashe, whose athletic ability and dignity was inspiring. Wanting to share her appreciation for the game to a group of like-minded adults and children on Fort Belvoir, Dean coordinated her efforts with the United States Tennis Association, and in May 1998, the NOVA Family Enrichment Program, Inc. was born.

Primarily devoted to developing family's tennis activities, students start as young as 5 years old and parents work right alongside them. The goals are to develop the whole child for life both on and off the court. Tennis fundamentals, conditioning and sports psychology are taught. The program takes place not just on the Fort Belvoir courts, but also at tennis camps hosted by area clubs and universities where students sometimes play against the pros.

Anthony Lawrence, 9, is one of the youth participants who has achieved success within the first year of playing. He has won more than half his matches and won skills contests at area competitions. "I like the competitions. I like the challenges of being alone on court. I also enjoy traveling to various cities for camps and matches along with the friends that I have made," said Lawrence.

Gisele Lawrence, Anthony's mother, agrees. "While I have seen his footwork, focus and athletic ability increase, his confidence and ability to make strategic decisions is also developing creating an overall game. With practice he could excel in tennis. He plays with his father weeknights and weekends and that motivates him," she said.

Oshea Tolbert, 14, joined after watching his parents play. He agrees the program has helped him improve. After playing for just a year, he now plays on Mount Vernon's varsity tennis program alongside much more experienced players, and has also won half his matches. "With the success I have had, I'm going to continue with drills and developing my abilities. It's a game you can play for life," said Tolbert.

In addition to the youth program of fundamentals, Dean works the total package angle on the children. "Our children participate in our tennis and learning program that includes public speaking through Toastmasters [an organization that develops public speaking and leadership skills], understanding tactical moves and critical thinking by learning chess and participating in the USTA-sponsored literacy, essay writing and art programs," Dean said.

"Through the USTA we are able to attend tennis camps taught by professionals and watch professional tennis matches in New York, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. We have 50 children that play tennis year round. Now we are hoping to expand and create a league for adults with area bases. Anyone of any skill level is welcome. You just have to bring your enthusiasm and a love for the game," stated Dean.

While Dean has seen whole families come closer and youth return as adults to coach, there is one wish she has - for one of the students to compete in a professional event someday. "I have already put in a standing order for Grand Slam tickets. I have a five-year-old who tells me that he is a champion everyday, so I have hope," said Dean.

To participate in the adult league or youth lessons, contact Dean at 703-360-8878 or deangj@ aol.com. The teams are also on the courts located at the corner of 9th Street and Belvoir Road most evenings and Saturday.

Page last updated Thu June 25th, 2009 at 10:40