The Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program (PBJTP) has a legacy in California tennis that stretches back to 1960, when the program’s namesake started coaching tennis at Fremont High School. In the 1970’s, Pete Brown made his way to Los Angeles as a teacher and tennis coach at Los Angeles Trade and Technical College before shifting his focus towards children’s tennis. He retired as a teacher in 1991 but continued to spread his love for tennis with an emphasis on junior players in the inner city of Los Angeles, laying the foundation for youngsters to gain access to training, equipment, and entry into tournaments for years, eventually leading to the creation of the PBJTP.
In 2009, after the passing of Brown, the program was adopted by one of Pete’s former players, Marty Woods, and the modern Pete Brown Junior Tennis Program was born. Today, the program is based out of Harvard Tennis Park in Los Angeles. With eight tennis courts at the park, they offer after-school and weekend tennis programs, as well as academic and mentoring programs at no charge to children from pre-K through 12th grade. The PBJTP is focused on the community in South Central Los Angeles and has a special emphasis on lower income children who may not otherwise have access to tennis, allowing them to experience the benefits of physical activity, teamwork and sportsmanship.
Robert Spearman is the Program Director and Fundraising Coordinator of PBJTP and got involved with the program 15 years ago, with his daughter being one of the junior players who was a part of the program. After his daughter graduated and left the program, Spearman continued to volunteer with the program and started wearing more hats as he wanted to help make greater impact. “He took them in, he exposed them to tennis,” said Spearman about Pete Brown’s mission. “He used it as a vehicle for them to aspire to continue their educations, and to be more career minded, and change the circle of poverty.”
Robert, Marty, and the entire program have continued to expand the work and legacy of Pete Brown, even hosting their program at multiple locations program has been building every sense, we have expanded out to multiple locations, such as St Andrews Rec Center, Lewis Park and Compton, as well as special events at Griffith Park. PBJTP also reaches out to a lot of different organizations in the community, to help diversify the type of programming and messaging that their children benefit from. “We collaborate with a lot of different entities,” explained Robert. “Such as the American Heart Association, the Play Academy, the LAPD, LA City Parks and Rec… Every other month, we do special events, bringing in speakers to talk to them about leadership, fitness, or any topic that’s going to broaden their horizons and give them some tools to make them a better person.”
Extending beyond the court, the program offers mentorship in fitness & nutrition, leadership, confidence, and networking, giving their kids a vast number of tools through tennis. While the PBJTA does hope to give kids an all-round experience, it still produces highly skilled tennis players. Some of PBJTA’s players have played across the country in ATA & USTA events, and many have gone on to play at the high school level.
“Our primary goal is to get these kids prepared for life and opportunities” Spearman said. “We want them to be able to reach their potential, to gain confidence and have the discipline in order to appreciate, and to do their best, in whatever they do. We teach them that it’s not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for the community, as far as giving back to make the community better.”
The key to success for PBJTP is constant self-evaluation, according to Spearman. “We’re open minded,” he said. “We don’t think that we are the know-it-alls. We are willing and open minded for suggestions, willing to try things out. If we get a good result with it, we’ll stick with it. If it’s something that didn’t go as well, we don’t harp on it, we just scratch it and move on!”
It’s clear that over 62 years after Pete Brown started making an impact on tennis in California, his legacy is in good hands. “Pete Brown has a passion for tennis,” said Robert. “They have a passion for the community and have a passion to inspire the youth in the community to develop them. It’s not a job, this is something that we were we were put on earth to do.”