The City of Charleston’s inner-city Courting Kids program has been blossoming for more than two decades. The fruits of the program are now more evident than ever.

You don’t have to look any further than the best girls team and the best boys team in the state for the current school year to recognize what Courting Kids means to tennis in the Charleston area. That would be Porter-Gaud, of course, where Mi’Kola Cooper used her athletic ability to virtually carry the girls team to the SCISA Class AAA state championship last fall; and where Junior Duarte, just a freshman, played a key role in the Cyclones’ drive to Friday’s state boys championship.

In its 21 years of existence, Courting Kids has produced other outstanding juniors, but Cooper and Duarte probably exemplify the true success story of the program as well, or better than, any of their predecessors.

Delores Jackson, the founder of the program and its only director, was busy Saturday wrapping up another spring season of Courting Kids. A total of 142 kids participated this spring, almost evenly divided between the downtown Jack Adams Tennis Center and John’s Island’s Alan Fleming Tennis Center.

“I remember when Junior started. He was four years old, and I was amazed that a kid could run so fast,” Jackson said.

Junior wasn’t hard to point out back then. He was the smallest boy on the court, the curly black-haired little fellow whose racket was almost as tall as he was. If Junior was there, his father Hufelder probably wasn’t far away.

Hufelder grew up in Mexico before moving to the United States. It didn’t take the father long to recognize that Courting Kids was a good thing for his family.

A few years later, little brother Osbaldo started participating in Courting Kids. Osbaldo is 11 now, and 7-year-old sister Aliana joins him at Courting Kids. Osbaldo dreams about the day he will be playing at Porter-Gaud, too. As for Junior, he’s hoping to play college tennis one day.

Junior has graduated from Courting Kids to Family Circle Tennis Center’s junior academy, similarly to Mi’Kola Cooper.

But Cooper already has turned her Courting Kids start into a full tennis scholarship at Baltimore’s Morgan State.

Cooper came along at Courting Kids about the same time as Junior. She was always the most eager and focused player in the lines waiting to hit balls. While other kids sometimes jumped out of line as kids often do, Mi’Kola appeared to concentrate solely on being ready for her next chance to hit the ball.

The Family Circle Cup stepped in to partner with Courting Kids two years ago, providing extra resources that enabled the program to continue its growth. Again this year, Family Circle donated $50,000 in financial and material support to the program as its official Community Outreach Partner.

One of the first success stories of the program came 11 years ago when Vernita Ackerman transfered to Ashley Hall as an eighth-grader and played No. 1 for the Panthers throughout her years at the school.

Then there was Wendrah McCoy, who in 2003 won the USTA’s national NJTL Arthur Ashe Essay Contest. Others, including Mi’Kola Cooper and current School of Math and Science tennis player Ebony Fields, have won the Southern version of the Ashe contest. “We’ve had a Southern winner every year since, and they’ve all gone to the U.S. Open with a parent or guardian,” Jackson said.

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