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“It was like a whole new world!” exclaimed Angela Martinez Ceballos, a McPherson Elementary School fifth-grader who had just been on a tennis court for the first time.

She and her classmates had been invited by their teacher, Lisa Miller, to practice with the Napa High girls tennis team she helps coach. The journey had started in August 2017.

The fifth-graders worked on their games during the 2017-18 school year, none of them having played tennis before. With the help of tennis racket donations from the community and volunteer coaches, the students learned and practiced twice a week on the school playground.

The Napa Valley Tennis Association purchased four nets for the class to use. McPherson also received a grant from the United States Tennis Association that included 30 tennis rackets for the primary students.

Volunteer coaches worked with students in groups of two to four. Miller had the rest of the students do forehand, backhand or serve drills. The coaches were essential because they were able to give personalized instruction. Having enough rackets available was a constant obstacle until Silverado Resort and Spa professionals Katie Dellich and Quinn Saine generously donated more rackets with new grips.

Another interesting obstacle was not having a fenced-in court. Fortunately, the students were good natured about chasing errant balls all over the playground.

Students in other classes at the school saw the fifth-graders playing and were eager to also learn. The fifth-graders worked with five other classes of first- and second-graders to introduce them to the game of tennis.

With donations from a Go Fund Me page, a group of students from the class were able to take tennis lessons this past summer, including Angela and her twin sister, Angelica. Students eagerly attended group lessons at the Napa Valley Tennis Association and Silverado Resort courts, and also practiced at Napa Valley College. They have continued to go to lessons this month and will keep doing so until the Go Fund Me money runs out in October.

Miller’s new classes of fourth- and fifth-graders are also very excited about learning tennis during P.E. classes. Coaches continue to volunteer and, thanks again to donations, each student has his or her own racket. They are able to take their rackets and one tennis ball home to practice. They practice wherever they can – at the ball wall after school, against walls at apartment complexes and even, as one student has done with his brother, in the parking lot of a laundromat.

The relationships between the students and the coaches is transforming. The students are incredibly grateful that people from the community care about them enough to come over and over again to teach them tennis.

The confidence the students gain from the tennis coaches transfers to the classroom. One student came back to class after tennis and said that Coach Lorraine Fazzalore had told her she had a natural swing. The student then began raising her hand to answer math questions, something she had previously been reluctant to do.

The Napa Valley Tennis Association has applied for a grant to help the students from last year and the new students from this year take lessons outside of school starting in January.

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