In Troubled Times, Tennis Creates Bridge with Atlanta Police
by Ron Cioffi, 30 November 2016
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Officer Jarius Daugherty stands on the court, a racket in his hand and a full complement of deadly equipment ringing his belt. There's a handgun, ammunition and a Taser, ready to help him keep the peace in Atlanta's Westside, one of the most troubled neighborhoods in Georgia's largest city.
Atlanta Police Officer Jarius Daughtery takes on the task of trying to return an errant ball
courtesy, Ron Cioffi
At the moment, however, he's just trying to keep the ball in play as he runs a tennis drill for a bank of youngsters with varying, and debatable, tennis skills. As the kids' uncontrolled shots go whizzing by the Atlanta police officer, he does his best to bat a few back.
Daugherty isn't much of a player; he only recently picked up a racket at the beginning of an 11-week program called Volleys Against Violence. However, what he lacks in skill is more than made up for in commitment. He is one of a group of dedicated officers who regularly arrive at the Washington Park Tennis Center with one goal in mind: Interact with kids when they are young and bridge what has become a widening gap between America's communities and their police officers.
The program, founded and run by the Atlanta Youth Tennis & Education Foundation (AYTEF), comes in a year filled with violence by police against citizens and by citizens against police. During the spring and summer especially, when a rash of killings gripped the nation, politicians called for the two groups to come together, to communicate and to heal.
After hearing about a tennis program begun in Boston by policemen, the AYTEF, in partnership with the Chattahoochee Foundation, crafted a similar program here. For six weeks in the spring and then in the longer, 11-session fall program, Atlanta youth got a healthy dose of tennis, dinner and interaction with the city's finest.