Howard Beach students play with US Open champs

THE COURIER/Photos by Dominick Totino

Sandy-affected Howard Beach students felt the love during a tennis clinic with US Open champions.

Twelve students from P.S. 207 went to Grandstand Stadium last week, where they participated in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) “Returning the Love” initiative.

Through the program, organized by New York Cares, the tennis tykes, ages five through nine, were able to play with stars like Andy Murray and meet Serena Williams.

“The kids were in awe that these major, major stars were taking the time to be with them,” said Stefanie Hanley, third grade teacher who accompanied the students. “They went through a lot during [Sandy].”

“They need to get back to smiling and get back to being kids again instead of worrying every time it rains.

They hear thunder and they get nervous,” she added.

P.S. 207, severely damaged by the storm, was closed for two months. During that time, students traveled to P.S. 232 in Lindenwood to go to school.

P.S. 232, which Hanley said is “already overcrowded,” doubled up on class sizes and averaged about 50 students per class while P.S. 207 was closed for repairs. Also, teachers’ supplies were “stuck” in the damaged building, and they were prohibited from getting them due to a hazardous oil smell throughout the site.

After reopening January 1, teachers and students have been trying to return to a sense of normalcy.

“It’s unbelievable that it’s almost a year now and they’re still going through this,” Hanley said. “[The students] have been through a lot.”

However, the tennis clinics put the smiles back on the students’ faces. They played doubles with reigning male champion Andy Murray and also hit the courts with Ana Ivanovic and Stanislas Wawrinka.

NBC’s “The Today Show” filmed a segment that same day, and the kids were able to watch a doubles match – Matt Lauer and Serena Williams versus Savannah Guthrie and Andy Murray.

“All of them want to play tennis now. They’re asking if we can have it in school,” Hanley said.

Hanley said that in her nine years as a teacher at P.S. 207, they have never been invited to “anything like this.”

“So many nice things have happened to these kids because of [Sandy] that really the good is outweighing the bad,” she said. “I think they’re ready to put everything behind them and start all over and really put their best foot forward.”



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