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Mayoral candidates to speak on city youth and physical activity

Posted by Ryan Butler October 8, 2013 03:32 PM

Mayoral candidates Marty Walsh and John Connolly are both set to speak at Dorchester's Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center on Columbus Day.

The Mayoral Conversation event is called “Active Youth, Healthy Communities.”

Each candidate will speak about improving neighborhood-based opportunities for Boston’s youth so that they can effectively engage in healthy physical activity.

Walsh and Connolly will have the opportunity to briefly address the topic before opening up the floor to questions from parents and other community leaders in attendance.

Doors open for the public at 8:30 a.m. Walsh is expected to take the floor first at 9 a.m., followed by Connolly at 10 a.m.

There is off-street parking available directly in front of the Tennis Center. The address is 950 Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester.

If you have questions regarding the event, email them to t.wiley@sportsmenstennisclub.org.

Ryan M. Butler covers Boston Public School athletics. He can be reached at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @butler_globe or @BPSspts.

Sportsmen's gets $150,000 grant from Tufts Medical Center

Posted by Ryan Butler October 3, 2013 01:00 PM

The Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center has received a $150,000 grant from the Tufts Medical Center.

The grant will be used to expand Sportsmen’s Volley Against Violence initiative, which is a group of programs that aim to engage youth in physical activity, provide them with strong relationships with adults, and build self-esteem.

Founded in 1961, Sportsmen’s was the first African-American nonprofit tennis club in the nation. It is committed to teaching tennis to inner-city Boston youth while positively influencing them both physically and mentally. The club has seven indoor and seven outdoor courts, a clubhouse, classrooms, and a technology center.

The Volley Against Violence initiative includes free tennis every Friday from 6-8 p.m., and free girls and boys leadership development programs every Saturday.

Ryan M. Butler covers Boston Public School athletics. He can be reached at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @butler_globe or @BPSspts.

Youth organization Tenacity to hold casino night on Oct. 3

Posted by Ryan Butler September 12, 2013 11:59 AM

Tenacity, one of Boston’s largest youth development programs, will host a night of casino-themed fun on Oct. 3 from 7-11 p.m. at the Algonquin Club on Commonwealth Avenue.

Former professional tennis payer Ned Eames started Tenacity in 2000 in an effort to assist the academic and physical development of Boston’s urban youth by using tennis instruction and competition as the means.

This tennis and enrichment program has reached more than 6,500 youths in Boston, many of whom are BPS kids, and has programs in Worcester as well.

Friends and spouses are cordially invited to support Tenacity at the Monte Carlo-themed event, which will showcase various games, prizes, and a comedy show featuring one of Boston’s best new female comics. Some of the prizes include: a gaming weekend at an unnamed resort and a trip to a undisclosed Caribbean destination.

To donate or purchase tickets, click here.

Ryan M. Butler covers Boston Public School athletics. He can be reached at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @butler_globe or @BPSspts.

Former BLA tennis star Eglis Bizhoti finds new home on UMass Boston court

Posted by Justin Rice August 15, 2013 12:38 PM

Egliz Bizhoti607.jpg

After he first touched a tennis racket just after immigrating from Albania about eight years ago, Eglis Bizhoti helped UMass Boston to its best season ever last spring. The former Latin Academy player had a crucial win to help send the Beacons to its first NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of UMass Boston)

The following is sixth in a series about former BPS athletes currently playing their sport in college.

Unlike some children he grew up with in Albania, Eglis Bizhoti always had food on the table and shoes on his feet. One luxury the son of an economist and school teacher never had in Albania, however, was a tennis racket. In fact, he didn't even know what a tennis racket was.

But after his family first immigrated to Dorchester in 2005 when he was 15-years-old, Bizhoti got the chance to first swing a tennis racket. And it wasn't long before he could hardly be found without his own racket as he walked the halls of Another Course to College High School in Brighton before graduating in 2010.

“When I moved here I did not know any English, I never saw a tennis court before I came to the States, I never had any experience at all,” said Bizhoti, who tagged along with his neighbor to a free summer tennis enrichment program called Tenacity two weeks after he first arrived. “Before [I joined Tenacity] I was going to the park and I asked people if I could play and they said ‘no,’ they were really snobby and rude. I said ‘come on, let me try?’

“The first time I whiffed and the second time I hit better. I just liked it. ‘This looks cool.’ Like something I could do. I had no money. We came here with pretty much zero, negative. My parents couldn’t afford anything.”

This past spring the boy who played five hours of tennis as a member of the cooped Latin Academy tennis team was a junior on the UMass Boston tennis team that recorded its best season in program history. Bizhoti played a crucial role on the team as the Beacons clinched their first Little East Conference championship in 23 years. That title also clinched the program’s first trip to the Division 3 NCAA Tournament.

UMass Boston trailed defending conference champ, UMass Dartmouth, with the final two singles matches left in the conference tournament on May 4. Moments after Bizhoti tied the contest at 4-4 by winning his No. 6 singles match in straight sets, his teammate Alex Loyer won his No. 3 singles match to give the Beacons the conference championship.

“It was amazing going to the NCAAs for the first time in school history and for myself,” Bizhotti said. “You always want to go to the NCAAs, which was one of the goals I had for playing college tennis.

“Being on a winning team is always awesome. Who doesn’t like to win? It was also with local kids I knew for a long time so to do it with them was also special to be on the same court as them.”

UMass Boston ultimately lost to Skidmore College in the First Round of its NCAA Tournament debut but head coach Eric Berg said he has almost his entire squad returning from last year’s 14-4 campaign. And he’s looking for Bizhotti to be an even bigger leader than he was last season.

“He definitely came through in the clutch,” Berg said of Bizhotti. “Eglis has the potential to be a very good leader. He’s vocal and everyone knows he cares a lot about the team. This he year he played lower than he thought he would in the lineup. I expect him to come into the fall with a little more urgency, knowing it’s his senior year.

“He does play well against the better players. If he’s higher in the lineup I think he’ll do well.”

Bizhotti owes a lot of his success on and off the tennis court to Tenacity, the tennis enrichment program he joined on a lark seven years ago because his neighbor invited him. But after his first summer in the program ended, Bizhotti said his family moved back to Albania because they weren’t adjusting to their new environment well. This was despite the fact that they won a lottery that gave them the green cards and social security numbers to move to the United States.

After the family decided to move back to the United States in September 2006, Bizhotti and his sister enrolled in Another Course to College. He caught onto English quickly but Bizhotti still struggled in school while his sister, Alba, thrived academically. He got As in math his first two years because he said it’s a “universal language” but he got Ds and Fs in every other course and was told that he might have to leave the school.

He started to work harder his junior year and made the honor roll his senior year.

“I went to school at 5 a.m. to type a 500 word essay,” he said. “Now I’m just happy I just got through that.”

In addition to working at Tenacity and the Stillman Tennis Center in Charlestown as an instructor, he also worked at Shaw’s and contributed $500 a month to supplement the income of his parents, Niko and Vasilika, who both work low-wage jobs at Logan International Airport.

But tennis was not only his rock and it provided role models for him.

“It’s a sport where individually you learn a lot about yourself and you learn how to deal with adversity,” he said. “So tennis really kind of put me in that environment that gave me examples to follow.”

Bizhotti started to get good too.

He volunteered at a tennis program for middle school kids at Harvard and he also played a ton of tennis with the staff there too. He made friends who played for the Latin Academy tennis team and they told him he should join. Before he graduated form high school in 2010, Bizhotti was a two-year captain of the Latin Academy tennis team and a four-year All-Star.

He played his first two seasons of college tennis at Salem State before he transferred to UMass Boston because the coast of room and board in Salem was too taxing on his family, which lives next to the UMass Boston campus.

“I’m really proud of what Eglis has achieved, he’s an impressive young man,” Latin Academy coach Andy Crane said. “He honors his father and mother.”

Bizhotti’s parents work so much at the airport that they’ve only been able to get away to watch one of his college matches at MIT when he played for Salem State.
Bizhotti, who is working at City Sports and Tenacity’s Boston Common site this summer, hopes to play No. 3 singles or higher for the Beacons during his senior year.

The economics major is thinking about studying finance during his senior year and isn’t sure what he wants to do after graduated other than that he wants to make enough money to give his parents some relief.

“I just want him to get two days off, he’s a guy who likes working but he needs rest as well,” Bizhotti said of his father. “I think we’ve come a long way from where we started and there ‘s going to be more things to climb — like anything.”

There’s no doubt he’ll follow the advice he gives to his tennis students on the rest of his own climb.

“‘Constantly ask questions about yourself,’” he said. “‘What can I do to improve?’”

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

Sportsmen's wins EMC grant for academic curriculum

Posted by Justin Rice July 22, 2013 03:28 PM

Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center received a “generous academic” grant from EMC Corporation on Monday which will allow the Dorchester-based tennis facility to add a science component to their academic curriculum.

“Science is such an important aspect of a young person's education today," Sportsman's Executive Director Toni Wiley said in a press release. "This is a critical way of building on the academic and fitness programs we already have in place."

The grant recognizes Sportsmen's successful programs for low-income youth in Boston.

EMC's Director of Community Involvement Jessica Anderson said Sportsmen’s has been a huge resource for the past 50 years.

“Through enhanced curriculum to include fields of science, students will have the opportunity to learn about the exciting career opportunities available in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)," Anderson said in the press release. "EMC is honored to award STEC this grant, and looks forward to hearing from the next generation of innovators."

The new curriculums, which will cover geology, biology, chemistry, nutrition, energy and environmental issues, will be beneficial to youth in first through eighth grade in Sportsmen’s after school programs and sixth through eleventh grades in weekend enrichment programs.

Boston Latin Academy student and Sportsmen's junior tennis player, DiAndrea Galloway, believes this is going a good opportunity.

“Students will get a chance to learn more about the environment, green chemistry, the human body, health and many more things all while having fun!" she said in the press release. "It is great for students like me, especially since I plan on going pre-med in college in a few years."

Dennis Membah is a Brighton High student who writes for Teens in Print.

Tenacity founder Ned Eames hosts gala a week before New England Tennis Hall of Fame induction

Posted by Justin Rice May 29, 2013 03:59 PM


Tenacity President and Founder Ned Eames will host more than 800 guests at the Westin Waterfront Hotel on Saturday night for Tenacity's annual gala and he will be inducted into the USTA New England Tennis Hall of Fame on June 8. (Photo courtesy of Tenacity)

The next two weekends will be pretty good ones for Ned Eames.

First, the founder of Tenacity Inc. — a tennis and enrichment program for 6,500 youths in Boston and Worcester — will host 800-plus guests Saturday at the Westin Waterfront Hotel from 5:30-11 p.m. at the organization’s annual fund-raising gala. He hopes to raise $500,000.

The following Saturday, the former pro tennis player will be inducted into the New England Division of the US Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.

Saturday's gala at the Westin will have a "magic" theme -- focusing on the "magic" of extended learning time -- and school reform in Boston, Eames said during a wide-ranging interview at Tenacity’s Allston offices Tuesday morning.

“Those partnerships bring increased academic help and also enrichment, which is key because kids can’t be in classrooms all day," Eames said. "They need to have fun running around recreating, experiencing the arts and so forth.”

Latin Academy tennis coach and founding Tenacity program director Andy Crane will receive the Founders Award at the gala.

“The evening will culminate with Andy on stage receiving this award,” Eames said. “There is also an incredibly moving video on Andy over the years that includes a lot of the staff and kids that he worked with. We’ll probably have 35 student alumni of Tenacity he mentored come up on stage with him.”

The gala will also honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and celebrate Tenacity’s first year of raising money through 15 Boston Marathon runners, all of whom were unharmed during the attacks.

Eames said Tenacity had about 230 staff members and 20 students along the course on Marathon Monday who also were uninjured.

“I was supposed to be at finish line but I couldn’t go,” Eames said. “My wife took my place and was literally on the bleachers across the street from the incident. She was OK but it was a very emotionally difficult time in terms of the injuries to others.

"I think we have a very profound and appropriate video and live on stage will acknowledge what our city went through this past year with the Marathon.”

Starting up in the summer of 1999, Tenacity worked with 1,100 kids in its tennis and reading enrichment program. The program now serves 5,000 kids each summer in Boston and Worcester.

During the school year, Tenacity serves 1,000 in partnership with Boston Public Schools and is on the cusp of growing to 2,000 students.

Eames, who received the Tennis Hall of Fame 2012 Samuel Hardy and Tennis Educational Merit Award in March, said being named to the New England Hall is meaningful because he can relate to the students his organization services.

Eames spent the first 14 years of his life at the leafy Newbury prep school now called Governor’s Academy, where his father was a teacher. But his father uprooted the family to become a community organizer in Worcester.

Eames lived in the rough-and-tumble Plumley Village housing projects and took a bus to play tennis at the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club before his family moved to a street near the clay courts at the Worcester Tennis Club.

“The tennis community in Worcester really pulled me in and made me a part of it, and tennis really became the activity that pulled me through my teen years, which in my case were challenging and not a smooth run,” he said.

“This was just a completely new world for me and it was a world that was very attractive to me and one that I threw myself into. And then it went on to play a very big role in my life through high school and college and then afterwards.

“So now, at the age of 53, to have an opportunity to be recognized in this way -- and especially because I’m being recognized for service work with kids, kids like I was in Worcester living in Plumley Village -- is very meaningful to me.”

Eames played in the state finals for Doherty High before captaining the San Diego State team. He also spent a few years on the pro satellite tour. He joked that he’s a little disappointed not to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player.

"I had hoped I’d be inducted as a player, and I was a pretty good player," he said, "but in the end, I’m even happier that it’s for this reason.”

Click here to purchase tickets to Saturday's Tenacity gala at the Westin Waterfront Hotel.

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

Sportsmen's Tennis Center gets another USTA grant to train junior players

Posted by Justin Rice April 3, 2013 04:18 PM

For the fourth time in five years, the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center in Dorchester was awarded a Multicultural Excellence Program Grant from the United States Tennis Association.

The $7,500 USTA grant will help fund the advancement of high-performing junior players, such as Latin Academy junior Di'Andrea Galloway.

Galloway, who has played No. 1 singles for the Dragons since seventh grade, is ranked No. 47 in New England among 18-year-old girls.

"We are among only 10 tennis centers nationwide which were selected for this prestigious grant," Sportsmen's executive director, Toni Wiley, said in a statement. "It is not only the financial assistance that we appreciate, but also the recognition by the USTA for the great work Sportsmen's is doing to develop youth who not only excel on the tennis court, but in school and life as well."

Sportsmen's is the only New England organization to be awarded the USTA grant.

The funding is based on the number of players with sectional and national rankings in a specific program.

Wiley said the funding will be used for a series of clinics geared toward junior players as well as semi-private lessons for advanced players.

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

City Council honors Volley Against Violence

Posted by Justin Rice March 28, 2013 09:56 AM


The Boston City Council recognized the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center's Volley Against Violence program with a formal proclamation on Wednesday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center

The Boston City Council on Wednesday honored the Sportsmen's Tennis & Enrichment Center's Volley Against Violence program with a formal proclamation.

The motion recognizes Sportsmen's Executive Director Toni Wiley and Frank Williams, founder of the Boston Police Tennis Program, for their creation of the Volley Against Violence program.

The free tennis program serves roughly 140 Boston youth every Friday night at the Dorchester tennis club. It is sponsored by The Boston Foundation and Tufts Medical Center.

Many of the youth are transported to the tennis center by Boston Police officers, who help run the program.

"The evening begins with a discussion of the topic of the week, such as goal setting, teamwork, or respect, for example," according to a press release. "Then, children enjoy ninety minutes of tennis, with drills and games led by STEC coaches and Boston Police officers who have received special training through a US Tennis Association Recreational Coaches Workshop.

"A spirited relay race follows, and the evening ends with a pizza party."

The motion to recognize the program was sponsored by City Councilor Tito Jackson of Roxbury.

For further information about Volley Against Violence or other youth programs offered at Sportsmen's, contact Toni Wiley at (617) 288-9092.

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

Tenacity founder Ned Eames honored by International Tennis Hall of Fame

Posted by Justin Rice March 18, 2013 05:14 PM


Tenacity president and founder Ned Eames (left) was awarded the 2012 Samuel Hardy and Tennis Educational Merit Award on Saturday alongside
former New York Mayor David Dinkins and former tennis pro Kathy Rinaldi. (Photo courtesy of Susan Mullane/camerawork usa)

The International Tennis Hall of Fame awarded the president and founder of Tenacity, Inc. — a tennis and enrichment program for 6,500 youths in Boston and Worcester — with a 2012 Samuel Hardy and Tennis Educational Merit Award on Saturday.

A former pro tennis player, Ned Eames started Tenacity 13 years ago with the mission of improving the academic, character, and physical development of urban youth by combining tennis instruction and competition with literacy instruction and life skills development. The program includes intensive school-year and summer programs.

Eames received the award during the International Tennis Hall of Fame annual awards luncheon alongside former New York Mayor David Dinkins and former tennis pro Kathy Rinaldi, who is a national coach in USTA Player Development.

“At Tenacity, Inc., in Boston, Ned has developed one of the country's finest National Junior Tennis & Learning organizations, opening the doors to education and opportunity for thousands of children,” Christopher Clouser, chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “These three individuals have applied their love of tennis to such important work, ultimately growing the sport and helping so many individuals. We are grateful for all that they do for tennis and we are pleased to recognize their dedication and accomplishments."

Tenacity is the second largest of the USTA's 660 National Junior Tennis & Learning Chapters.

Tenacity includes a three-year Middle School Academy, which it credits for the academic success of its students.

In 2012, Boston public school eighth-graders in the Tenacity program scored 35 percent higher in English, language, and arts proficiency on the MCAS test than BPS eighth-graders not enrolled in the program. The program also graduates about 95 percent of its students enrolled in BPS, a district with a 40 percent dropout rate.

Eames, who serves as a member of the USTA's Strategic & Creative Planning Committee, played professionally on the ATP Satellite Tour from 1983-85.

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

Volley Against Violence returns to Sportsmen's Tennis Center

Posted by Justin Rice October 4, 2012 11:05 AM

Volley Against Violence, a free tennis program for children and teens in Boston, will return to the Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester on Friday night.

The program, run by the Boston Police Department, will start at 6 p.m. at 950 Blue Hill Ave.

The program provides tennis instruction, life-skill development and mentoring to families during a safe and active Friday night for hundreds of Boston youth.

"Children as young as five and adults of all ages join in an evening of athletics, food, and community fellowship — free of charge," a press release for the program states. "VAV not only puts racquets in the hands of approximately 120 kids every weekend, but it has a unique ability to bridge gaps between police officers and families of the surrounding communities. In a dual sense, officers arrive weekly ready to protect and 'serve' alongside STEC’s tennis pro-staff."

The program was started in 2009 by BPD officer Frank G. Williams, Jr., who also serves on STEC’s board of directors. Williams, who provided tennis instruction to under-served youth in South Boston on public tennis courts, eventually started to drive students from South Boston to STEC to participate in Street Safe programming at STEC, funded
by The Boston Foundation.

"Both Williams and STEC Executive Director, Toni Wiley have worked tirelessly in ensuring the growth of VAV, under the leadership of STEC’s Director of Community Tennis, Jelani Haynes," the release says.

The program also received a grant from the Healthy Dorchester Initiative of Tufts Medical Center, which has allowed more than 900 Boston youth and families to participate in the free weekly programs, including DEUCE (for boys ages eight to twelve) as well as Sunday Community Tennis.

Sunday Community Tennis, which is open to all ages, will resume on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at STEC.

To learn more about Volley Against Violence visit http://www.sportsmenstennisclub.org and the “Boston Police Tennis Program” Facebook page. You can also contact Officer Frank G. Williams at BPDTennis@gmail.com or fgwill50@gmail.com.

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

About Boston Public Schools Sports Blog

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.