Wilmington’s Tennis Rocks program offers tennis and private lessons for young people

When he left the Rodney Street Tennis and Tutoring Association more than five years ago after about 42 years with the program, Harry Shur had no intention of slowing down.

After decades of using tennis and tutoring as a way to help the children of Wilmington, Shur, a former crisis therapist in Delaware state, wanted to continue doing what he loves.

He is a “big believer” of Wilmington and the city’s youth, he said.

How could his work have a greater impact? By targeting the city’s most vulnerable young people.

He partnered with the Nehemiah Gateway Community Development Corporation – a project of the Shiloh Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist Church in Delaware – to form Tennis Rocks and continue its mission of serving the city’s youth. Specifically, he wanted to be in the 19802 zip code, which was home to poverty and frequent incidents of gun violence.

People, Shur said, would ask him, “Do you know where you are moving?

“Absolutely,” Shur would say. “This is where we need to be.”

Last week, Tennis Rocks completed its fifth Summer Tennis and Enrichment Camp, a free six-week program at Haynes Park that catered to children ages 8 and up. While tennis is a big part, the few dozen participants also had access to the Tennis Rocks house, located right next to the Shiloh Baptist Church on West 23rd Street.

“It’s not all tennis,” said Shur, who some refer to as Coach Harry or Mr. Harry. “It’s life skills.”

Tennis Rocks also offers tutoring and enrichment programs year round for the city’s children. It also offers a music program, which gives children the opportunity to learn and play instruments. Shur said a fundraiser was underway to renovate the basement into a recording studio.

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19-year-old Anika Devotta has been with Shur for seven summers, she said, first as a participant and now as a tutor and coach. The University of Delaware Criminal Justice and Sociology student helps children prepare for the college year.

“I always tell them it’s better to make mistakes with me and then have a review when you go back to school,” Devotta said.

“It’s always good to train and even better to have it with kids your age,” she said of tennis and tutoring. “It makes things more fun.”

After working in the field, she said she liked the kids to have fun while programming at the church.

“It’s still the camp,” she said. “We want children to relax and unwind.”

Shur, who featured in the News Journal’s 50 Who Matter series in 2011, said the program aimed to tackle dropout rates with her tutoring throughout the year. Tennis Rocks works with districts and charters in the area, he said, to help students find work if they fall behind.

Funding for Tennis Rocks programming comes from various donors, Shur said, including Christ Church, Beth Shalom Congregation, United States Tennis Association, Delaware Community Foundation and others.

The program serves hundreds of meals from, among others, Kozy Korner and Cafe Riviera. Summer camp campers were treated to a pizza buffet at La Pizzeria metro on Miller Road across from the park.

Shur said the pandemic caused the cancellation of the summer tennis camp in 2020. The 67-year-old did not think it was reasonable to have children wearing masks outside during the heat summer, but the tutoring went as planned.

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Tennis Rocks, he said, has roughly doubled its number of participants in the past two years.

“It’s like a hidden gem. There it is,” Shur said. “You just have to offer quality things.

“Like I said, I’m just carrying the damaged notepad. These kids and their families make me look good.”

Contact reporter Jeff Neiburg at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.

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