The history and founding of the Washington Heights Tennis Association:
The Washington Heights Tennis Association (located in northern
Manhattan) was the vision of a single man, Eligio (Leo) Reynoso. Leo started playing tennis in the early 1970’s, while still in high school. There weren’t too many avenues for a teenager from the Dominican
Republic to get on a tennis court in Upper Manhattan. Playing on cracked, concrete city courts
under the George Washington Bridge, Leo worked himself up to be a first-rate, competitive player.
An avid player in his teens to young adulthood,Leo started teaching tennis to his youngest brother, Marcelino; who was eventually ranked fourth on the East Coast at the age of 16. That was Leo’s first inspiration getting his younger brother started in tennis, and helping him achieve a high ranking as his coach. This was what inspired Leo to coach more kids. A natural teacher, he realized he had the talent he had to teach and guide kids. In short order, Leo started teaching tennis to the Washington Heights Youth and from there the Washington Heights Tennis Association was born on the cracked concrete tennis courts under the George Washington Bridge.
Graduating from the School of Visual Arts, Leo started teaching art at Manhattan Country School an independent private school in upper West Side. But he still wanted to do more for the kids in his community. Washington Heights (and Upper Manhattan in general) has hundreds of kids
hanging out in the street corners, wasting time and often getting into trouble. In light of this, Leo approached Gregorio Luperon High School (an alternative school for immigrant youth) with a plan. Leo could see that these unoccupied and directionless kids needed to have focused activities; before long he was convincing many kids to come with him to the Harlem Tennis Center to attempt something that was somewhat foreign, but which was immediately fun tennis.
In addition to teaching art, Leo also felt that he could do more with kids using sports to give them a physical outlet and also to impart discipline, teamwork, ethics, and love of the game (which is tennis all over). This evolved into the Washington Heights Tennis Association which offers free group tennis lessons all year around and semi-private lessons to advanced kids on Saturday evenings. It also runs a three day a week summer program in
conjunction with Columbia University at Inwood Hill Park.
The summer tennis program reaches more than 200 kids from all walks of life. Local kids get priority, but many come from Harlem and from nearby in the Bronx and a few passionate kids trek all the way from Brooklyn and Queens.
In the summer, there’s an open first-come, first-
served policy, but serious players can't afford not to play all year. With limited time, space, and funding for indoor tennis in winter, Leo (with the support of Columbia University) teaches tennis for twenty weeks indoors under a “bubble” at the Dick Savitt Tennis Center—which is a short distance from the public tennis courts at Inwood Park.
Kids are selected for the winter program based on hard work and commitment. Beginners still get a few hours of play, but Leo dedicates his Saturday nights to concentrate on the advanced students with whom he works from 6-9 p.m. at Columbia University’s indoor courts at the Dick Savitt Center (part of Columbia University’s Baker Athletics Complex). These
advanced students gain exposure to competitive tennis though low-cost USTA-sponsored team leagues that play all around the city (ask us how to join). Given the costs of indoor tennis time in New York City, it would be virtually
impossible for the kids from these neighborhoods to play tournaments otherwise.
In addition to playing, they get a sense of the history and grandeur of the game by planting their feet on the same courts where tennis greats have been, like the original Forest Hills Stadium where the US. Open was played for sixty years until it moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978.
Kids from ages 5 to 17 play together along with a group of coaches and parents who make it all happen. The Association, which has been incorporated for 16 years (how many years now?), benefits from the help from lots of neighborhood institutions, friends, and local politicians.
The WHTA’s Board of Directors and a group of dedicated coaches believe heartily in the organization and its mission always willing to go the extra mile for the kids and our mission—our kids are lucky to have them in their lives.
FREE Community Tennis program
Tennis for All!
The Washington Heights Tennis Association (WHTA) offers FREE tennis lessons for kids ages 5 - 17 in the summer for six weeks on the public tennis courts of Inwood Park in Northern Manhattan. Our slogan and promise is Tennis For All!—and that’s exactly what we provide. With a dedicated group of coaches and lovers of the sport, WHTA Director and founder, Eligio (Leo) Reynoso, teaches tennis with rigorous drills, point-for-point play, strategy, simulated match play and above-all, the value of good sportsmanship.
Tennis is an international sport that transcends nationality and partisanship—international stars are beloved the world over for their tennis skills and are considered ambassadors for each of their countries, accepted in every nation as stars regardless of where they come from. You’ll find crowds all over the world clapping for Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios, Kei Nishikori—Rafael Nadal has fans in Saudi Arabia, China, Africa and the United States (as do all of the other players mentioned). The WHTA’s own, Irina Falconi (a graduate of our program), who has ranked as high as 63 in the world, is presently on tour competing in majors, going head-to-head against international superstars—matching them, winning solid victories and pursuing a long career as a tennis player—also enjoying international stardom, and all the benefits you can get as a well-known international tennis sensation. Hard work got her there!—and to be immodest, it all started at the WHTA when she was just four-years-old. (Do yourself a favor, follower her on Twitter, and you’ll become and instant fan!).
Our goal at the Washington Heights Tennis Association is to teach tennis to kids who don’t normally have access to the sport due to tennis being a prohibitively expensive pursuit. The WHTA is here to open the doors for beginners and to provide expert guidance and a robust introduction to tennis. Our keen focus at the WHTA is also to direct future tennis stars towards a quality education at the best universities and colleges with tennis as the vehicle for getting our players scholarships. Not everyone’s goal is professional sport, and it doesn’t have to be, but with talent and drive, in addition to good mentorship, tennis can fulfill educational dreams at the same time as fulfilling the desire to play tennis at a high level and garner the accolades everyone who participates in a sport wants