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Woman forms tennis team for at-risk youth
Brenau to help squad practice for weekly matches
Chris Slate, right, and Brenau tennis coach Andre Ferreira talk to Brenau University students Jenna Jansen, far left, and Taylor Savage about volunteering to help with a new tennis program for at-risk youth. - photo by TOM REED The Times

Donate to Southern Realty USTA team

Monetary donations for uniforms, supplies and snacks can be brought to the Southern Realty office at 411 Green St., Gainesville. Checks should be made out to Northeast Georgia Tennis. For more information, contact Chris Slate at

Chris Slate wants to serve those who got backhanded during their lifetimes.

She's creating the first-ever US Tennis Association team for at-risk youths.

"This could be your ticket to college you might not ever have," said Slate, president of Southern Realty and member of the Board of Directors District 2 for both USTA-Georgia and Northeast Georgia Tennis Association.

The 12 team members — six boys and six girls — are going to be hand-picked over the next two weeks from a list of Hall County students on probation. They'll be competing in USTA tennis matches on a weekly basis, Slate said.

"There's not going to be a right or wrong kid," she said. "They've just got to want it. Somebody who wants a fighting chance, a ticket out."

The 12-week program will meet at Brenau University in Gainesville three days a week from 3:30 to 8 p.m.

"The Brenau tennis girls, which are international, are going to be feeding the balls to the kids. What an incredible opportunity for influence on them," said Kay Pierce, secretary of Northeast Georgia Tennis Association. "We're hoping nobody else knows the kids are at risk. What we're hoping to do is take them out of that situation and show them something different in life, that they don't have to buy into what was normal for them."

The kids will be picked up from school and brought to Brenau by vans donated by Milton Martin Honda. They'll start the afternoon off with a snack and then will be tutored one-on-one and receive extracurricular instruction in music, drama and computer skills. Team members will also get financial literacy lessons from Junior Achievement and will journal about their experiences.

The big part, however, will be their tennis practice and competitions every Sunday in the spring.

"What if we run into an Andre Agassi? What if we run into a Serena? Somebody who has a tremendous amount of tennis skills but because of their background and their home situation, they don't have any opportunity to learn tennis?" Pierce said. "Tennis is a sport for life."

Both Slate and Pierce are avid tennis players.

When Slate joined the board for Northeast Georgia Tennis, she got the chance to attend the US Open tournament, which opened her eyes to new possibilities with the sport.

"We had to go to these meetings," Slate told attendees at Monday's Rotary Club meeting. "They were talking about diversity and saying that to be able to grow our sport, if we keep having the same people, by year such-and-such we're just going to be a bunch of white people playing tennis."

She began to think there was something she could do to help.

Her inspiration came when a client informed her his son was arrested.

"If only the kid had something like tennis that they could focus on instead of shooting the gun in the neighborhood," Slate said. "And I thought, maybe if we get kids involved in tennis at a young age, they can all be diverse."

She brought the idea up to several Hall County judges and when she didn't hear a single "No," Slate
gave herself the go-ahead and began recruiting volunteers and finding team members.

"I've not been aware of any program like this," said Cliff Jolliff, juvenile court judge for Hall and Dawson counties. "(Slate) found some instances where somebody tried it at a regional youth detention center, but what I explained to her, that population is so transitory, you wouldn't be able to have their attention that long. That's when we talked about probated kids."

About eight faculty members from Brenau are involved, University Chaplain Don Harrison said.

Pierce said she believes the program will be funded through various USTA groups.

"If these kids can actually learn a sport, it really might help them with their self-esteem, competency and ability to participate in high school sports," Jolliff said. "The ability to be exposed to staff and students and Brenau, a college campus that most of these kids would never see, is incredible."


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