Tennis isn’t much of a big deal at South L.A.’s struggling Jefferson High. The two dozen kids who play on the boys’ and girls’ teams practice on a pair of beaten courts at a gang-riddled, graffiti-tagged park. It wasn’t long ago that both squads — stacked with teens still learning basic tennis rules — shared six beaten rackets and sometimes played in jeans.
“Shoes?” said David Herrera, who coaches the girls’ team. “A lot of my players didn’t even know there was such a thing as shoes made just for tennis. They played in skateboard sneakers. One girl showed up in boots. They just didn’t know.” They do now, thanks to the venerable, 84-year-old Beverly Hills Tennis Club.
This past weekend marked the beginning of an uncommon bond between Jefferson and the club — storied in Southern California tennis circles, with a wealthy membership that once included Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin. On Saturday, Jefferson’s tennis players boarded a bus in their neighborhood and went on a 12-mile journey to a corner of the city far different from their own.
They ended up at the leafy club — as honored guests. “Most of us, we’ve never really been to Beverly Hills before, even though it’s not that far from home,” said Alma Roque, a 17-year-old senior who stood back for a moment, tentative as she surveyed her teammates.
Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to President Obama for Disability Policy (left), with Learning Ally member Henry “Hoby” Wedler (right)
When Kareem Dale, now a special advisor to President Barack Obama, was in high school, all he wanted to do was wrestle. But as a student who was partially blind, that wasn’t easy.
Dale’s school made it possible for him to participate in the sport by creating a rule that wrestlers always needed to be touching their opponent. “It allowed me to wrestle throughout public high school,” Dale said. “That experience of wrestling gave me confidence, it made me healthier, it was really an extraordinary experience.”
But hundreds of other students with disabilities may not have had an opportunity in school sports, a 2010 Government Accountability Office report suggested. The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights on Friday is sending school districts a 13-page guidance document that spells out the rights of students with disabilities to participate in school athletics.