“If you want to change the world, start by changing the life of a child.”—The Boys & Girls Clubs of America Marty Wood’s family lived around the corner from Harvard Park on Gage Avenue. Meeting Pete Brown had a huge impact on the then 7-year-old Woods. Since the child’s dad was absent from his life, Brown served as a father figure and mentor. Brown was a tennis instructor who led four National Junior Tennis Learning (NJTL) sites and his goal was simple: to encourage urban kids to explore the game of tennis.
The NJTL was founded in 1969 and was the brainchild of former tennis champs Arthur Ashe and Charlie Pasarell, along with businessman Sheridan Snyder.
“For 50 or 60 years, Pete was coaching,” Woods said. “He touched hundreds of lives. I can’t even tell you how many people I talk to every day… how he gave folks a safe haven to grow and nurtured them.”
Brown coached Woods and provided him with financial support, equipment and the opportunity to travel outside of his community to compete in tennis tournaments.
“I started getting good pretty quick,” Woods remembers. “He was head coach at LA Trade-Technical College, so if you weren’t ready to go to a university, you could go to Tech. And he was in touch with a lot of coaches.”
After high school, Brown provided Woods with a few college options and he received a full ride to Jackson State University in Mississippi.
“My major was computer science,” Woods said. “That was back in the 80s, so that technology was new. Jackson State had just received a grant from IBM, so my first semester on campus I was able to take a lot of good courses.”
After college, Woods started his career in computer programming and is now working in sales for a major IT company.
Brown called Woods one day, explaining how he was getting on and needed some help. Woods picked up the racket without hesitation. And when Brown passed away in 2009, Woods immediately decided to carry on the work in Brown’s name, providing local youth the same experiences Brown provided for him.
Woods drives nearly 150 miles each day—from home to work to the courts, to home, making sure to regularly check on the three program sites: Harvard Park and St. Andrews Recreation Center in Los Angeles and Luders Park in Compton.
Now in it’s 10th year, the Pete Brown Tennis Program gives kids access to free tennis lessons, rackets, shoes, attire and healthy food. “To help with their performance level,” Woods said.
That healthy eating and nutritional aspect of the program was recently highlighted on “The Rachael Ray Show.” As a guest, Woods was thankful.
“Oh, what an experience,” Woods said. “The exposure was great. We were blessed to have that platform bring us in and showcase what we’re doing here in the community.”
Woods is also grateful for the coaches, staff, parents and other members of the community who enable him to carry on the legacy of his former coach.
“If we didn’t go out and shake trees and ask for contributions, we couldn’t do this,” Woods said. “We’re always looking for donors and those who believe in what we’re doing to support us.”
Involvement in the Pete Brown Tennis Program has enabled hundreds of youth to enjoy Nike summer camps at Pepperdine University, Stanford University and Sonoma State College.
During the year, the young tennis players get to visit other venues including private country clubs, tennis centers, and major universities. Once, a caravan of cars from South LA arrived at The Riviera Country Club. Club members welcomed the kids with open arms, and the kids enjoyed a banquet room lunch before they played on the club’s clay courts.
Several players have also traveled to historic American Tennis Association (ATA) tournaments in Florida and Washington, D.C.
You know tennis wasn’t always an open sport.” Woods said. “While the sport was segregated, we had our own ATA and players would compete in nation events. We still participate.”
Woods finds himself repeating the same words Brown shared with him years ago: “Hey kids, do you want to learn tennis? You get a free racket.”
He guarantees no child is ever left out.
“That’s my mission,” Woods said. “To grow and keep doing what he was doing. To reach out to all the low-income communities in LA.”