Leonard Bush and Donald Moody are trying to change the sports landscape on Aiken’s Northside, and by many accounts, they are succeeding.


An area where basketball courts dominate the neighborhoods, the game of tennis is gaining interest from those who may not have the opportunity to ever receive exposure to the sport. Tennis lessons can be expensive, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars just for a one-hour private session.


At first, only a handful of children showed up for free tennis lessons in Eustis Park, a small area tucked in the Toole Hill neighborhood.


On Thursday, a dozen kids show up for the first session, hydrated and ready for practice.


Bush and Moody, with the help of local high school tennis players, shuffle the kids around. Step by step they show them how to swing, make eye contact and whack the small, yellow ball across the court. It’s slow; many of the kids have to try half a dozen times, but their interest stays focused. Participants aren’t required to bring any tennis equipment, just themselves and a water bottle. Moody thanks Houndslake Country Club Tennis Director Arturo Costa for the tennis gear donations.


Like the participants, neither coach grew up playing tennis. Bush said he didn’t even know how to play when he was younger.


“I played ball; I lived and breathed ball,” Bush said. “Back when I was a child, I never knew what tennis was because no one introduced me to it. We only played football, baseball and basketball.”


But a sport so unheard of now has turned into a sport for life, Bush said.


Toole Hill Neighborhood Association President Betty Myers is the voice behind the program. She worried, in a park with only two tennis courts that are hardly used, would the tennis courts be taken out? She wanted to put them to use.


“It gives the neighborhood a better enhancement, of working with different athletes in different fields, that can become a lifetime activity for these kids,” Myers said. “They only do what we offer them. If we don’t offer it, no one will come.”


Participants who show up don’t have to understand or know tennis — Bush and Moody can teach that. But there are numerous other values both want to instill in the players, whether or not they choose to continue playing.


“We teach sportsmanship,” Moody said. “Obviously, there is a competitive side; at the end of the day, it’s a game. But there’s a lot more than just slugging balls; anyone can do that. You have to have a strategy, and you have to think. I might be a little biased, but it’s one of the best sports ever.”


Bush agrees.


“We want to be role models to these kids, but also show them what a good role model is,” Bush said. “These lessons don’t just help them learn how to play, it teaches them to respect people and, more importantly, to respect themselves.”


Aiken High School students Frelicia Tucker, 15, and twin sister Fredericka, 15, are the older sisters of the tennis program.


They assist Moody and Bush with lessons, but also handle some of the participants one-on-one to better strengthen their skills.


“I think this program has brought a love for tennis that wasn’t here,” Frelicia Tucker said. “I see a lot of my little cousins want to play because they see me play, and we don’t have the rackets to teach them. Lessons are expensive, so it’s good to give something like this to lower privileged kids and children; it’s a good opportunity.”


The program is doing more than just developing a kid’s tennis arm; perhaps it’s already changed one individual’s career path.


“I’ve kind of decided this is what I want to do; I want to teach tennis,” Tucker said. “Coaches are like, the best teachers ever. They give insight to the physical aspects, but also the spiritual, as well. If I can do that, I can also help someone else.”


Tennis lessons are offered both Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. for ages 6 to 11 and from 7 to 8 p.m. for ages 12 to 18.


Eustis Park is located at 1001 Edgefield Ave.


Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard.