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Kings County Tennis League Serves Up First Lesson of the Year in Bed-Stuy

 The Kings County Tennis League started up again on Saturday in four different Bed-Stuy public housing complexes.
The Kings County Tennis League
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The future Roger Federers and Serena Williamses of the world took the court on Saturday for this year's first meeting of the Kings County Tennis League, a youth tennis club that meets weekly with kids from public housing complexes across Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The league, founded in 2009 by Bed-Stuy resident Michael McCasland, 30, aims to build community, provide mentors and teach kids larger life lessons, the founder said.

On Saturday, 80-to-100 children laced up their sneakers and grabbed a racket to start their training.

"It was a great day," McCasland said. "Everybody showed up early, everybody was excited. There was no last minute scrambling. Everybody was ready to go."

The idea for the tennis club came to McCasland when he moved from Washington, D.C. to Brooklyn in 2008 to take a job in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant because after visiting his twin brother, who lived in the neighborhood.

As he would walk around the area he'd keep coming across the tennis courts in the Marcy Playground near the Marcy Houses.

"I thought it was quite the opportunity that there happened to be a tennis court adjacent to public housing," McCasland said. "It always bothered me that people thought tennis is an elite white guy sport. Tennis is not really like that."

So McCasland, who's been playing tennis since seventh grade in North Carolina, started organizing. He drew up fliers for the Kings County Tennis Club and started passing them out around town. He asked friends and colleagues if they had tennis rackets to donate, and started looking for people to donate time.

It wasn't an immediate success: no one showed up to his first class in 2010. But he persisted, handing out fliers every week until the class began to grow.

"Before you knew it, we had over 40 kids show up every Saturday," McCasland said.

Now, the club has expanded to four separate public housing complexes with about 25 children from each site: the Marcy Houses, on DeKalb Avenue between Nostrand and Marcy avenues; Lafayette Gardens, at Dekalb and Classon avenues; the Tompkins Houses, at Tompkins and Myrtle avenues; and the Sumner Houses, at Myrtle Avenue between Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Throop Avenue.

The group is also now a nonprofit organization with a board of directors.

"It's running on its own," McCasland said. "It's organized."

Now the club hopes to expand its scope, using tennis as a way to educate the kids in a more passive sense, McCasland said. For example, volunteers will start to help teach kids vocabulary words by casually using them in daily conversation.

There are also community service days, and an end of season tournament, where the four locations square off against each other, McCasland said.

In the future, the founder and president said the group hopes to raise money and find a space to play indoors year-round.

He also hopes that the children come out with the same life lessons that brought him to where he is today.

"Tennis is a great sport for life, because it teaches you to be [independent,]" McCasland said. "When you win, it's all yours. When you lose, you have to deal with that."