Jake Agna Presented 2018 Ned Weld Award at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame

Each year, the Youth Tennis Foundation of New England honors the legacy of Ned Weld, a former number #1 New England player, and former YTF president. Ned was an avid tennis competitor and tireless champion for helping kids through tennis. The Ned Weld award goes to someone who personifies those same virtues.

From the time Jake Agna got his first wooden Jack Kramer racquet at age 5, no one in rural Yellow Springs, Ohio was safe. If you said ‘hello’ to Jake, he would drag you out onto the city courts. jake became a runner-up in High School State Doubles Champion for the state of Ohio. Cincinnati’s Queen City Racquet Club recruited Jake as head teaching professional at age 19.

In the late 90’s, as a veteran teaching pro in Burlington, VT, Jake decided to add under-served youth to his successful junior development program. “That’s when I saw what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” says Jake. “To bring tennis to kids who weren’t going to get it otherwise.”

In the year 2000, Jake Agna created ‘Kids on the Ball’. Jake’s goal was simple; ‘if they show up for the first time on Friday, we want to see them back on Monday morning.’

Today, the ‘Kids on the Ball’ program serves 1200 kids in Burlington, VT, many more in Springfield, MA, New Orleans, and Havana, Cuba.

Jake’s programs have been described as “the happy musical sounds of tennis balls, laughter and children’s voices, in different languages. A mixture of  refugee, inner city and suburban youth, including many new arrivals from Syria.”

The entire New England Tennis Community and the YTF thanks Jake Agna for his passion and devotion in bringing tennis to kids who surely would not have it without him.

Mike Lewitt, President of the Youth Tennis Foundation of New England and presenter of the award sums up Jake:

“Jake’s love and purpose seems to travel independently through the airwaves. Anywhere you turn, to USTA, to Vermont tennis people – you pick up a smile in peoples’ words about Jake. I particularly love the part on your website video where Jake says” When I go down to the park, I just want to have a lot of friends.”

Download Ned Weld Award Article

Join Jake at the Kids on the Ball Open

Join Jake (& David, J.J, Joyce, Pat et al.) at the Kids on the Ball Open
Burlington Tennis Club
1 East Terrace
South Burlington, VT 05403

All the games you know and love:
Top Dog, Approach, Be Who You Are and Doubles Round Robin

Saturday, August 25

Youth: 9:00 am-10:30 am
Adults: 11:00 am-2:00 pm

“Top Dog” Lunch from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm with a live auction and Sisters of Anarchy Ice Cream

A benefit for Kids on the Ball – Where all Games Start with Love – Come join the fun!

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.”

Original Article

Roast Jake Agna 2.0

On Thursday, February 1, 2018, the Board of Directors of Kids on the Ball had the opportunity to celebrate (and roast) Jake and his accomplishments in the tennis world!

Jake’s Roasters: Andy Kaplan, Melinda Moulton, Sheila Hollender, Chad Nichols, Kieran Donnelly and Jane Mekkelson

All proceeds benefited Kids on the Ball, Inc.


Vermont Nonprofit Helps Fix Up Tennis Courts In Cuba

An offshoot of a Vermont-based nonprofit is helping young athletes in Cuba with some critical improvements to the places they play. And we’re not talking about baseball.

Kids on the Ball is helping to repair some of Cuba’s badly damaged tennis courts — fixes that cost more than half a million dollars. The group eventually wants to foster some lasting ties between Cuban tennis players and their U.S. counterparts.

Jake Agna is the founder of Kids on the Ball, and this week he’s traveling down to Cuba for the ribbon-cutting for newly resurfaced courts there. He spoke with VPR before his trip.

The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio here.

VPR: What prompted you to first visit Cuba? What did you discover in connection with kids playing tennis and the conditions of the courts?

Agna: “In America, I had gotten a lot of acclaim for grassroots tennis, because that’s what we’ve been doing … since 2000. But my daughter nudged me and said, ‘These guys? This is grassroots tennis.’ And so I got up there, humbled right off the bat, and said, ‘You know, I don’t know why I’m down here in a lot of ways, I wanted to see what you guys got.’

“So they took me out to the National Tennis Center pretty quickly, and it was just humbling. The courts were really beat up. I’ve never seen balls that beat up … the nets were strung up to chairs and I felt a lump in my throat.

“I looked at these kids [and] the first thing you notice is the attitude — tremendous attitude and talent. I mean, the kids are physically fit, but more than anything, just the energy and the enthusiasm was like, I was surprised.”

How did you get the idea to raise money to repair these courts, and how did you make that happen?

“I told the Cubans that I’m going to go back to some of the foundations that I talk to and see if they are willing to get behind this. My plan was to help them right off the bat with balls, string, rackets, shoes, a stringing machine, and then the first phase basically was to fix the courts, which was going to be a lot of money.

“Second phase was to fix this building that’s there, it’s the National Tennis Center — it’s really beat up. And then the third phase was to get kids to play each other — American kids to go down there and Cuban kids come up [here].

“And so I came back and I went to a couple of the major donors I have. I went to Bob Stiller, who at that time had Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and he gave a tremendous donation to get it off the ground. And then I just was enthused, I felt like it could happen. That’s how I fundraise. I just get in a mood and I just started calling people up and we got a lot of money pretty quickly.”

When you started traveling to Cuba, President Obama was in office and was working to reestablish diplomatic ties to Cuba. Now it’s unclear where U.S.-Cuban relations are headed in the Trump Administration. Has the new political climate affected what you’re doing in Cuba?

“Not really, but for sure the Cubans are asking questions. The normal Joe on the street, the cab driver, says, ‘What do you think’s going to happen?’ And you know, I don’t know.

“It was amazing, we started right at the right time. Cuba was opening up, I started to take people down on trips because partly I wanted to fundraise that way, but mostly I wanted people to see what I saw and come back with stories. I thought that would be the way to spread the word about how great a people they are.

What are your hopes for getting some of these Cuban players to Vermont at some point, and again, do you think that might be affected by what happens with the Trump Administration?

“I do think that the embargo has to be lifted for these kids to be able to come out of there and play. Over the past two years, we’ve taken some teenage kids down there. That’s what I want to see is, I want to see our kids play with their kids, because everybody comes back saying, ‘Man, that was fun.'”

Tennis Converges Under One Umbrella to Promote Tennis in Cuba

Tennis Channel. TENNIS Magazine. Tennis Industry. TENNIS.com. It doesn’t take a racquet scientist to see that, while each of these media outlets occupies a different space, they are all doing the same thing: promoting the sport of tennis.

And so it only makes sense that, as of last month, these broadcast, print and digital voices of the game converged under one umbrella. They joined forces in order to tell more compelling stories, better inform you about what’s important in the sport, and report on the players and places that matter—including those players and places that don’t have a voice. You have probably noticed various elements of the Tennis Channel appearing on TENNIS.com, and vice versa. Think of these early collaborations as formations that a newly formed doubles team practices. Some will work, others will need tinkering. But we know one thing for sure: we’ve found the perfect partner.

This piece has been edited for our site, read the full letter here.

This week, Tennis Channel’s seasoned crew of producers, editors and reporters will travel to Havana, Cuba to chronicle a most unexpected transformation: the rebirth of the country’s National Tennis Center by a group of Americans. Originally built for the 1992 Pan-American Games, the NTC’s courts had fallen into utter disrepair, a playing surface in name only. The nets sagged, the fences rusted—it was a dismal scene. The playing conditions were both unsafe and unacceptable by any reasonable standard. You can see hi-res photography of what the NTC once looked like over at Baseline.

Neglect had taken the life out of these courts—but not the game out of the players, as Jake Agna discovered. A tennis pro from Burlington, Vermont and co-founder of the Kids on the Ball youth tennis program, Agna began making regular visits to Havana after watching a CBS Sunday Morning episode that highlighted a musician’s cultural journey to Cuba. Inspired by the piece, Agna made his first trip to a nation seemingly off-limits to Americans for decades. He saw the value of his own cultural connection, through tennis, and the potential of the Cuban children—as well the unsuitable conditions they played in.

Needing the right equipment and facilities to bring their tennis dreams to life, Agna coordinated an effort with Hinding Tennis, a court-construction company from Connecticut, to undertake the first on-the-ground U.S. work project in Cuba in over 60 years. What they have achieved, and what they still wish to achieve, is the subject of Tennis Channel’s latest documentary project.

In rebuilding Cuba’s National Tennis Center, two governments came together to create something powerful, that will resonate with all who enjoy tennis. I can think of no more appropriate story to tell that better exemplifies another exciting union, between TENNIS.com and Tennis Channel.

Ed McGrogan
Senior Editor, TENNIS.com

Kids on the Ball | Facebook

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The Cuban American Friendship Society, Kids on the Ball and @Hinding Tennis celebrating the signing of the bill of lading at the National Tennis Center in Havana, Cuba – The signing of this document will now allow the materials needed to repair the courts at The National Tennis to be received into Cuba.