At 83, Albert Stark stood on the tennis courts at Cadwalader Park in Trenton where he played as a child, attending school right across the street in what was then No. 3 High School.
He lived four blocks away.
“We are at a place where, in 1949, my life changed,” he said. Over time, this change of life would ripple into positive changes in the lives of countless young people in the city of Trenton and, later, in neighboring communities.
One mechanism for this change is the National Junior Tennis & Learning of Trenton (NJTLT), a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of disadvantaged youth through innovative tennis, education and mentorship programs.
In addition to building a career as a well-respected attorney with the Stark & Stark law firm, Albert Stark has been long involved with the NJTLT since its inception in 1975, generously donating time and resources.
Stark’s involvement in helping young people through tennis even predates the NJTLT.
Returning to his youth, Stark reflected, “I wanted to be a major league baseball player. Trenton was a baseball town.
“After a disappointing tryout with the Cadwalader Wildcats (in 1949), I was desperate. I was sad. I was lost.”
Stark shifted his focus from baseball to tennis when his mother enrolled him in a tennis clinic at Cadwalader Park to help him recover.
She brought the young lad to buy proper tennis attire which was the order of the day, similar to what is still worn at Wimbledon, white shorts, white shirt, white trainers.
The boy has found new inspiration and purpose on the courts.
Stark then achieved a level of competitive success on the courts in high school and college, competing in tournaments around the country, but realized he may have reached his potential as a player.
He said tennis was becoming a power play, unsuited to his skill or size.
Stark said that in college he would return to Trenton “to help out Dan Hagerty who had been my tennis mentor and coach at Trenton High School.
“I got really involved here at Cadwalader Park with the young kids learning to play. I started teaching. I took them to tournaments in my car. I gave them free lessons. I raised some money. »
“Then one day,” he said, “David Hagerty (Dan’s son) came to me and he had a proposal that would make this (Cadwalader Park) a world-class facility and a model for the rest of the country. “
Hagerty’s ambitious plan required raising $950,000. Stark said, “I asked ‘How are we going to do this? and he said ‘We’ll do it together.’ And this was the beginning of the story of the creation of this wonderful facility. It has become a model.
But it’s not about the buildings. It’s not even about tennis.
“Tennis is the hook,” Stark said. “Education and learning is the real thing.”
He said they weren’t looking to produce the next Arthur Ash or Serena Williams. “Our goal is to give everyone the opportunity to do what they do best and get into college and a career so they can grow and have opportunities.”
Nykia Peterson Johnson of Trenton sees opportunities for her three children. She started her eldest son Rasheam aged six on the program eleven years ago after they drove by Cadwalader Park one day and stopped to see what was happening.
Rasheam has risen through the ranks and is now giving back as a senior mentor to NJTLT’s Minecraft program, one of many specific varied programs offered involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), career readiness and, of course, tennis.
“In addition to teaching tennis, it teaches kids to give back and give back to the community,” Peterson Johnson said. “This program is phenomenal!”
She says her other two younger children, Detron Drake Johnson, 8, and Giavonni Johnson, 11, “grew up on the program.”
“We really believe in keeping the child for 10 years,” said NJTLT executive director Bob Loonie.
Children can start playing tennis from the age of 5, thanks to the courts available at the Junior Champions Tennis Center in Cadwalader Park. With 14 courts reduced to about a quarter of the size, the facility is one of the largest outdoor court development facilities in the United States and the only one in New Jersey.
Alumni of the programs have access to college scholarships and internships with Bloomberg. And getting kids involved early and keeping them involved gets results.
Loonie said the USTA offers 33 college scholarships of $10,000 and last year, for example, there were 200 National Junior Tennis League organizations across the country vying for 33 USTA scholarships. NJTLT students received 5. The NJTLT also matches these scholarships for students.
The 28th Annual Trenton National Junior Tennis and Learning Gala will be held Sunday, September 25 from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Mercer County Tennis Center and The Boat House in Mercer Lake.
Long-time supporters Paul Decker and Bill Whyte are the winners and world champion Bryan Brothers Bob and Mike will return as special guests.
Proceeds from this flagship event directly benefit children in the Trenton area, creating opportunities for success through innovative tennis, education and mentorship programs designed to prepare student-athletes for college admission. and job placement.
If it hadn’t been for that fateful day in 1949, when young Stark’s life path changed, life could have been very different – and not just for him.
That day, Stark put on his glove and took 2nd base on a try for the Cadwalader Wildcats in hopes of getting to American League National Champion Trenton Schroths.
“Billy Cox was at bat,” Stark recalled 73 years later. “Billy hit a ground ball. Bounced back to me. I grabbed it, I made a clean shot. I raised my arm. I pitched to first base and threw the ball over the first baseman’s head.
Stark may not have made this list, but he would go on to play a major role in building a list of thousands of grateful, underfunded young people whose lives have been saved from uncertainty through tennis and learning, and through the example of their benefactors, learning to give back.
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Michael Mancuso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org