Kids on the Ball brings tennis to Marrero elementary school

Ten-year-old Emonie Dunbar giggled Friday (March 23) as she talked about her first encounter with the game of tennis earlier this week at Lincoln Elementary School for the Arts in Marrero.

“I did not know how to hit the ball. I didn’t know how to toss the ball. I didn’t know how to do anything,” Dunbar said. “But I feel like I have improved. It’s surprisingly easy now that I know what to do. When you learn what to do, it gets easier and easier!”

The Jefferson Parish school’s outdoor basketball court was turned into a tennis court this week as Jake Agna and his philanthropic organization “Kids On the Ball” held court at the Jefferson Parish public school and introduced many of the school’s 435 students to a new sport.

The school was chosen through a partnership with the “New Orleans Youth Tennis” club, Agna said.

“The kids are excited about the tennis program being here,” said Karen Brooks Favorite, principal of the school which enrolls students in prekindergarten through eighth-grades. “Mr. Jake and his team have been wonderful with energizing the children and making them see a different world and the possibilities.

“That’s what we’re all about here at Lincoln, exposing our kids to new and better things.”

Agna, who started the tennis program 18 years ago in Vermont, says his program is designed to expose as many students to the game of tennis as possible, and that he uses it as a vehicle to teach life skills, such as respect and cooperation.

“Our philosophy is that we’re not teaching a lot of tennis, we play tennis with them,” said Agna, who coached tennis for 45 years. “And we want the game to teach them some sense of order.”

The program was incorporated into the school’s physical education class and Agna’s team supplied portable nets, tons of tennis balls, and dozens of racquets, which are being donated to the school.

Agna says his goal is to partner with a local community group or college so that the tennis program will continue on a regular basis. In Vermont, his organization has free programs in public parks, public schools and at the Boys and Girls Club.

He also plans to return to Lincoln in the fall.

“I’m impressed with their enthusiasm,” Agna said. “if you saw the improvement, we see it within two days, It’s phenomenal. So, we’re sold on coming back.”

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