One blazing hot afternoon I made my way to the Kenneth “Wriggler” King multipurpose center on Darling Road. On arriving at the newly built facility, a group of Methodist Primary School students were gleefully trying to balance bouncing neon coloured tennis balls on a racket.
I spotted my host dashing after a rouge ball on the other side of the complex. It looked like so much fun I almost let him cajole me into having a go on the tennis court with my work attire! Twenty-nine-year-old Sirsean Arlain was in his element that day. I really couldn’t tell who was having more fun, him or the students.
For those of you who are not acquainted with him, Arlain was born and raised in the heart of Castries. As a child, football was his first love. Around age ten, Arlain was handed a tennis racket. He has not put it down since. He made the finals in the Coca Cola ITF in St Lucia three times. He played the junior circuit and was ranked in the top 200 in the world at one point. Subsequently, he went to university in the United States on a scholarship after completing his tenure at St Mary’s College. Still playing the game, Arlain returned home in 2005. Now he’s pursuing his dream—coaching tennis on a grassroots level.
Over the years tennis has been categorized as an elitist sport. Said Arlain: “The stigma attached to tennis was there during my time. It’s a stigma that still persists today and that is one of the reasons we really pushed for this program. If we can open up some of these so-called elitist sports to some of the kids around the island, we have a much better chance of preventing a lot of crime and violence permeating our nation. If we can start these programs with kids from a much younger age we can eliminate a lot of that. If we can educate them, whether it be through sport or academics, we will curb our current situation.”
In an effort to help the community, the Tiger Tennis Program was born.
“Myself and another pro, Ron Blanchard, who works with E-Zone, we started talking about this. Then another member of our club, Geneva Mathurin, teaches at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, we spoke about it also. As time went along, it just became something better. The more we spoke about it the more positive it seemed. Then we started writing the letters for sponsorship. We got one over to the Substance Abuse Secretariat. Robert Huggins was so positive about it and we pushed forward. And so the four of us now form the executive of Tiger Tennis.”
E-Zone was one of the first corporate entities to endorse the program. Through E-Zone and Sandals, Tiger Tennis was able to host a summer camp which got rave reviews. Subway then came on board and donated EC$5,000 worth of equipment to the program including rackets, balls, cones, markers and tennis dvds.
Subway’s Lyndell Archibald said: “Tennis has a stigma but we hope this program will break barriers. We hope they will be rounded individuals which will help them in the future. That would help in alleviating some of the ills that we’re experiencing right now.”
Arlain could not fully express his gratitude to all who have helped to make the program a reality. “In these tough times, it is really good to know the corporate community is on board, we are so grateful. There is nothing better than seeing these kids in here. Something like this can only come together with a collective effort. I hope in the future more people will come on board.”
In the next few weeks, Tiger Tennis, apart from being implemented in the Methodist School, will be available at the Anglican Infant and Primary, Ave Maria Girls School, RC Boys, Castries Comprehensive, Leon Hess Secondary, St Mary’s College and St Joseph’s Convent.
The children have really embraced the program. For Arlain, “The community response has been the most surprising to me. It’s been fantastic. We had a group of community kids here one Saturday and it was amazing to see how well the kids can play. The best thing about it was their excitement, their eyes danced.”
He continued: “What we’re really trying to push is not only tennis but a complete program of healthy lifestyles. We’re going to try to keep them on the right path as much as we can.”
If children are identified by who possesses the necessary caliber for competitiveness. Arlain promises to do as much as can be done to get that child out of St Lucia, off to school and playing tennis. Said Arlain: “No one is to say where the next great player is going to come from. It’s left to us to push for it. I did it. Others did too. But I want these kids to be better than we were. I want them to go further than we did. If we can get twenty to forty kids out on scholarship every year; that’s definitely a goal we want to reach.”
Sign up for the Tiger Tennis program, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 486-1504 and if that doesn’t work, you can always find them on the Kenneth “Wriggler” King complex every Saturday morning from 9am to 12pm.