“It taught me how to have sportsmanship, and to not get angry about every little thing,” Michael Figueroa said.
Life lessons 12-year-old Michael Figueroa has learned on the court.
“[Tennis] basically changed my life, because usually I would just sit around the house, being bored,” he explained.
But now, he spends his time here, at New York Junior Tennis and Learning and its new state-of-the-art Cary Leeds facility in the Crotona Park, the Bronx.
“New York Junior Tennis and Learning is a not-for-profit organization founded by Arthur Ashe in 1971 and it’s mission then and now is to provide tennis as a means of developing character," Dr. Deborah Antoine, President/CEO of NYJTL, said.
These kids are among the more than 75,000 that get to do it for free, through the organization's year-round community youth program.
“It’s a universal sport, and it’s a smart sport," Dr. Antoine said. "It means that when you’re on the court, your brain is functioning at a much higher rate.”
A certain spirit and set of skills Michael's gained, alongside his best friend Eric Blackshire.
“We were born in the same hospital, on the same day,” Michael and Eric said.
A bond from birth that's proven to be unbreakable.
“How has this helped your friendship?" I asked. "When we play doubles, I’ll be the mad one and he’ll be the one who’s like calm down and I calm down,” Eric described. "He's like saving me."
NYJTL also comes to schools so kids can do homework, get tutoring and most importantly, feel safe from the violence in their neighborhoods.
“it was last year, 5th grade, we were all playing outside, and then we heard three shots fired,” Eric remembered.
“Luckily the [NYJTL] staff just pushed people away from the street and into the school,” Michael said. "It made me feel really safe."
A sense of security and stability that shines through their continued success.
"I'm happy because I get to do it with my best friend," they both said.
And at the end of the day, the real ace is this duo's commitment to each other, win or lose.
Teammates for now, friends forever.
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi.