Local effort brings tennis courts to Cuba - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Local effort brings tennis courts to Cuba

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Jake Agna Jake Agna

Vermont generosity is paying off in a big way for kids in Cuba who love tennis. 

The Kids on the Ball organization has been sharing tennis with young people in Vermont for almost 20 years. "It's sort of like ping-pong, but better," said Nikkiah Atwood, an Edmunds Middle School student and Kids on the Ball Athlete.

Coach Jake Agna has seen the effort help kids build friendships, confidence and a love for the sport here at home, and he thought why not try it in Cuba as a way to do the same thing. "I went down there 18 months ago and I saw a tremendous talent, tremendous attitude, but terrible courts," Agna said.

That vision has been unfolding in Havana for the last year and-a-half. The nonprofit has helped raise more than $600,000 to make major improvements to Cuba's National Tennis Center. "What we had to do was bring all the material from the United States in cargo ships, and then we brought all the workers from the United States," Agna said.

It was out with the old and in with the new as folks cleaned up the space, fixed old fencing, and unveiled 10 newly-surfaced courts ready for action. 

"It is really cool that we are not the only ones participating in activity like this after school, and it's just really cool thinking Cuba is also doing this too," said 
Phoenix Ringwig, a Kids on the Ball Athlete.

New equipment was also part of the plan to turn Cuban kids on to the sport, something Agna's students back in South Burlington think is a great idea. "I think it is good for them to learn how to play different sports and have the opportunity to to play with Jake and other kids," Atwood said.

So why Cuba? Agna says it simple -- the two countries have had a rocky history and he hopes the sport can help make things better. "If kids can learn to play together, they can learn to get along and learn from each other," he said.

These new courts are just part one of the mission to bring Kids on the Ball to Cuba. Part two is having Cuban and American kids face off in friendly competition. Agna doesn't know how long that will take to get off the ground, but his students say they're ready. "It would be really cool. It would probably be competitive, but I think I could beat them," Ringwig said.  

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