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Through hardship, an 11-year-old finds achievement at Tennis Success Center

Posted at 10:22 PM, May 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-31 23:22:34-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — On Wednesday, the Tennis Success Center announced their new location, growing the outreach of the nonprofit.

Tennis Success Center started as an idea in January 2000. Since then the organization has helped under privileged children with tennis lessons, tutoring and healthy living.

"My favorite part is watching the kids grow," Executive Director Cheri-ri Peña said. "Not just physically grow, but grow into amazing human beings. Watching them become well rounded people, not just amazing tennis players on the court or amazing academically. But literally, watch them make the right choices when maybe before they wouldn't have."

The Tennis Success Community Courts and Center is now located behind the old Mary Carroll High School on Tiger Lane.

The program has also been beneficial to keep children on track or get them back on track. Peña said at their previous location they could help 50 children. At the new location they can accommodate a max of 100.

11-year-old Markus Soto is one of the many children taking part in the Tennis Success program. In his fourth year, he’s been quite the quick learner.

“I learned the basics, learned my strokes really fast. I moved up to green ball,” he said.

Soto began in third grade with an appetite to get into tennis. He already had a football and boxing background.

“He’s actually the youngest in our advanced program,” Peña said.

On the academic side, Soto is serving up an "ace" in the classroom. In July he’ll take an exam to possibly skip the seventh grade.

“I can trust him with certain things, you normally probably wouldn’t with an eleven year old," Peña said. "So, we’re very happy and excited to have someone like him in the program.”

Life hasn’t been a "straight sets match" for Soto. With an incarcerated father and an absent mother, times have been tough for him and his six siblings. They now live with their grandparents.

“He came in a little broken meaning a little emotional, a little bit of anger issues. But as he has grown in the program, he’s one we can actually set aside to go work with younger players,” Peña said.

"My family, they're very nice, very supportive," Soto said. "They take me to whatever I need to go to. They give me suggestions and help me out with essays if I ever need help, homework."

If someone asked him what hardships he’s gone through, he’d only tell you one fault.

“Well, I had came from a background of football and baseball. Well, my two hand backhand I would always hit it like a baseball,” he said.

Soto can be reserved, but when he comes out of his shell, it’s to be a leader.

“I like to see them progress,” he said.

"If he's playing a younger player or beginner, he wants to stop and teach them,"

Tennis Success Center has had many children move on to go to college, five of them playing tennis in college. Soto has that goal, too.

“They teach you new things about tennis and different stuff. They like to watch you progress, watch you learn new things,” he said.

The Tennis Center has representatives in eight elementary schools that are able to direct children to the program. Sometimes children will be brought to them to take part in the program.

Students from third grade to 12th grade can take part in the program. Participants can either register on their website here, or they can head to the Tennis Success Center facility Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. or on Saturday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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