Free tennis lessons that are being offered to youth at Eustis Park in Aiken represent an excellent model for future partnerships in the city.

The program, associated with the Safe Communities initiative, has the potential to not only stimulate greater interest in the sport, but also provides a needed outlet for kids, particularly during the summer months.

Each week, youth throughout the city gather at the park to learn the basics of the game, and are also imparted the life lessons so often associated with sports.

This is a particularly beneficial program for the Northside of Aiken, which has experienced a lack of recreational opportunities over the years compared to the rest of the city.

The success of the lessons – sometimes dozens of kids are lined up to play – should put a spotlight on the needs of that part of our community, and be an impetus for change.

Greater recreation resources are warranted, and a stronger emphasis on the Northside is critical to move Aiken forward.

Betty Myers, president of the Toole Hill Neighborhood Association on the Northside, said the program is “fantastic” for the community.

“Having these sports programs here are going to enlighten things for a lot of other programs,” Myers said. “Parents in the neighborhood are brainstorming about what all we can put here.”

There’s certainly potential for different sports camps such as basketball, Relay For Life walks and other community recreation events.

It’s a testament to the gumption of the neighborhood that these programs are being planned.

One of the local tennis instructors, Donald Moody, said the initiative is “very worthwhile,” particularly since it carries health benefits and provides an outlet for youth.

“Tennis has afforded me a lot of opportunities over the years,” Moody said. “Tennis is a sport of a lifetime. It really is. You can play from 5 years old up to the 85 years old. You can continue to play.”

Leonard Bush, who coaches alongside Moody, noted that the lessons are a plus for the community, particularly because of the cost.

“Tennis, for one thing, the lessons can be so expensive,” Moody said. “A lot of kids can’t afford it. So it’s a way for us to give something back to the community.”

With the positive response the lessons have received, it’s clear there’s an audience for developing future recreation programs on the Northside.

The development of any new rec programs would be aided by the construction of a gym, which so many on the Northside have advocated for, especially in recent years.

Aiken City Council has thankfully put a greater emphasis on development of rec opportunities in recent months, including a new gym on the Northside, which is a positive step.

That’s a needed discussion to have, and as we’ve said on this page before, it’s vital that policymakers find consensus on the issue. Setting short-term and long-term goals for the community will be crucial to providing effective recreation to all residents of our city.