Nightly News   |  September 04, 2013

Tennis program serves up big advantage for kids

A Brooklyn-based program teaches inner-city youth how to play tennis. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally here tonight, it happens at this time of year every year, right after nightfall here in new york city . there's a bright spot on the skyline off to the east. it is the unmistakable glow of the u.s. open . it's a big ticket event with fancy people and expensive seats watching the best tennis players in the world. luckily, it's not the only game in town thanks to the efforts of some good people to get some kids into the game who would normally not have the chance. our "making a difference" report tonight from nbc's rehema ellis.

>> keep going, keep going.

>> reporter: drills are demanding, honing basic tennis skills, but this court next to this housing project in brooklyn, new york, isn't part of a swanky tennis club. here they use portable nets and even play the game across a chain link fence.

>> nice.

>> reporter: but for dozens of kids like 10-year-old nia and 14-year-old brandon, it's still the best.

>> it's not just hitting the ball back and forth. it's also about strategy, angles angles, masks.

>> it's being out here with other kids and it's my career.

>> reporter: she means this is a chance to develop a career as a tennis pro, like her idol serena and venus williams .

>> nice shot.

>> reporter: the king's county tennis league is a non-profit run by michael mccaslick, a forensic scientist who moved into the neighborhood from washington, d.c. five years ago and brought his love of tennis with him.

>> you hit it to you two and back of the line.

>> reporter: when he saw the housing project 's run down seldom used courts he saw an opportunity.

>> i said this is too good to be true, almost meant to be a.

>> reporter: with a bucket of tennis balls and used rackets he invited kids to join him. the program got off to a slow start. at first only one kid showed up, but mike was determined, and four years later more than 100 kids are involved.

>> everyone is reddy.

>> tennis is now offered at four public housing projects free of cost. he's recruited lawyers, chefs, consultants to volunteer what they know about the game and about life.

>> and this is a medium to have these interactions so that these kids can see what opportunities are out there.

>> reporter: his approach to the game got the attention of the u.s. tennis association . now big financial supporters.

>> we don't have to have a regulation tennis court in order for tennis to make a difference.

>> reporter: anything about playing tennis help you with schoolwork?

>> focusing.

>> reporter: because you have to focus to play this game.

>> and do my schoolwork.

>> reporter: a sport for these kids.

>> you guys twice in a row.

>> reporter: that turn out to be more than just a game. raheema ellis, nbc news, brooklyn, new york.