All Lined Up

As I live in a neighborhood where I can literally walk across the street and play on nicely made tennis courts at the local high school, I hope my school community takes advantage of doing the same. After all, access to resources levels the playing field in all sorts of ways.
— Coach Falkner-Stephens, Site Coordinator at Roosevelt Elementary School

Last June, The ACE Project joined forces with the United States Tennis Association (USTA), Chase Bank, and the Riverdale Park District to unveil the Art Courts in Riverdale, Illinois ; this effort brought a national public courts renovation project to our founding neighborhood. The result? A bright summer of activities as the reflective greens, pinks, and blues painted onto the courts by Chicago-based artist Justus Roe were made to use by sneakers that jumped, shuffled, and sprinted into action. Much to Coach Falkner-Stephen’s point, by undergoing this significant project, The ACE Project saw how it leveled the playing field, whether it be youth having more opportunities to practice, families joining together to learn new skills, or community leaders collaborating to create safe spaces. Advantage, ACE!

While projects of this magnitude are not always possible, we were honored to partner again with the USTA this summer to address a different issue: improving the tennis facilities at Roosevelt Elementary School. Now, when we say “tennis facilities,” we mean the indoor school gym we currently use for tennis; however, this already small space is becoming even more cramped for our growing ACE team. When discussing alternate options with the USTA, an idea was formed: blended lines.

But, what are blended lines and how will it advance our mission?

To help explain, we turned to Beau Fieldsend, Manager of Strategic & Section Infrastructure at the USTA, who shared that, “Since 2008, the USTA has assisted communities with the installation of more than 23,000 36' and/or 60' blended lines around the country. These blended lines benefit the players themselves, as they are able to start on a court that is right sized for their tennis ability and/or age level which results in longer rallies and overall more enjoyment from the game. Tennis is more likely to be a physical education option at schools or community centers that have permanent blended lines on their tennis court, gym floor, or blacktop - the infrastructure is already in place for the gym teacher or coach to begin introducing kids to a game that they can enjoy for a lifetime. Four 36' courts fit within the space needed for a full 78' court, this makes it easier for a program leader to have larger classes of kids in a smaller space.” Well, if we read between the lines, it sounds like this blended business really works!

As Beau mentions, much of this is dependent on the program leader, so what does Coach Falkner-Stephens have to say about this outdoor addition? “We utilize the gymnasiums (when available) for our tennis camps. However, we must flexible for gym time, being there are several extra-curricular activities going on simultaneously. Although we receive great backing from the administration to use the gyms, it would be wonderful to take the children outdoors! Having the opportunity to play outside on our school property allows for easier group transitions, more realistic game play, and keeping the students safe as possible. By having full mini courts operating simultaneously, students will get a more realistic experience of how agility and speed are a necessary when playing tennis.” It seems like the t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted, then, when we consider the impact these blended lines will have on youth and coaches alike, making for a more enjoyable, engaging experience for all!

Coach Falkner-Stephens raises a good point, though: what does administration have to say about these lines? Joshua Markward, Assistant Principal at Roosevelt, had an answer: “The project, to the school, is an opportunity for us to see a large group of students experiencing something new. It creates a sense of camaraderie and teamwork. This is something we strive for in all areas of the school. It is a way to bring something in (tennis) that normally isn't a big part of the community. Just as the students are learning, so are their parents, other friends and people around the school. It's a chance to welcome in something new in hopes that others will get involved.”

It looks like everyone agrees: this lined up perfectly. We love-love it when that happens.