By Charlie Garfinkel
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Marsha Huard was honored by the USTA’s Eastern Section with its Diversity and Inclusion Award for her outstanding work in promoting tennis in the Western New York area, with heavy emphasis in the Riverside section of Buffalo.
The award was based on her participation in youth and adult tennis programs. The program has included Burmese and Iraqi refugees, and neighborhood kids. The program was recommended by Sister Susan Bowles of Voice Buffalo, a faith based program that Huard had once been heavily involved with.
Sen. Mark Grisanti is well aware of Huard’s outstanding work. “Marcia has done a great job with the kids in the Riverside area,” Grisanti said. “She has given them the opportunity to succeed both in tennis and in life. “I try to help her as much as I can with grant and scholarship money for the kids as much as I can.”
Huard, who works full time in the Purchasing Department of the Buffalo Board of Education, has been working with the River Rock Tennis and Educational Division for almost nine years. River Rock is a community organization that has activities with Voice Buffalo that dealt closely with St. John the Baptist Church where Huard helped out. Unfortunately, the church was closed by the Bishop. He then moved Huard to St. Francis Xavier. That church was also closed.
Huard decided that she was going to do something for herself. That something was tennis. She started playing at Riverside Park as much as she could. There were no lines on the court. She got two of the local kids to put lines on the court for her. She also paid two Iraqi refugee brothers $50 each out of her own pocket to put nets up.
Because she didn’t get much help from City Hall to fix the courts she went to a County Legislature meeting and pleaded her case for new courts at Riverside Park. She stated that Riverside was being overlooked as far as getting tennis help like other areas in the city. Within six months two beautiful courts were built in Riverside Park.
She then called her friend Linda Popielarczyk to see if her son Joey, a former tennis player on the UB varsity, to find out if he would be interested in giving her and some friends tennis lessons, which he was. She also contacted Maria Lirio, who was very instrumental in working with the Eastern Tennis Association. Lirio set up a Tennis Carnival that was highly successful with the children.
Over 50 kids signed up for the Carnival to participate in games and hitting targets that were all tennis related.
“Once I saw the interest that was happening in tennis in the Riverside community I applied to the Quick Start program for inclusion,” Huard said. “I contacted Michelle Skelley, the local Quick Start impresario, who is world famous for her work with books and games related to Quick Start. She had the kids hooked with the smaller racquets and cushioned balls which made the game so much fun.”
Huard said most kids in the Riverside area are not tennis oriented. They would rather watch television. “We have been fortunate in having kids sign up for tennis who could be doing other things that might get them in trouble,” she said. “If I could change just one kid at a time to take up tennis and make him a better person nothing could make me happier.”
She said tennis is a great game for kids. It forces them to make decisions on and off the court. Some of the highly successful programs that Huard has been instrumental in promoting tennis are:
Tuesday Night Lessons: These are lessons that are run by Joey Popielarczyk. He is great with kids and just wants to help children on and off the court. Being a home grown Riverside guy he can greatly relate to all of the kids, especially teen-agers, and is a phenomenal role model.
Tennis Block Party: This party starts kids off in the tennis season. New kids join the program and most are quickly involved in the teaching program.
Junior Tennis Team Camp: This consists of match play. Everyone gets a chance to play kids at different levels. It is a chance to compete and play with their friends. What is so noticeable is that there is no pressure on the kids, sportsmanship must be strictly adhered to and it is obvious the kids are having a great time.
Pro Am Tournament: Some of the area’s better tournament players such as Jason Joseph, Earl Tomkins, and Jay McKee, former Sabres hockey great, will team up with some local dignitaries such as Sam Hoyt.
Huard has also been instrumental in getting scholarships for some of her students, finding a home for some of them, inviting many of them to dinner, and driving them to and from practice.
Huard notes that the Buffalo Niagara County Tennis Association, under the leadership of Shawna Macfarlan, has been instrumental in funding programs and scholarships at River Rock.
Hanni Htat, who is from Burma, plays tennis for Mount St. Mary Academy. “Ms. Huard is so dedicated to each of us and drives us wherever we need to go. She is a really great person who does everything she can for kids in our program,” said Htat.
“She just doesn’t help you with your tennis. She helps us with every aspect of our life and wants nothing more than for us to be the best person that we can be,” and Monar Ali, who is from Iraq and plays tennis for Health Sciences Charter School.
Huard is just happy to make a difference.
“Seeing the joy on so many children and adults faces is all the thank you that I need,” she said. “I have been fortunate to have helped many people make decisions, hopefully both on and off the tennis courts. To see them succeed both in life and their tennis is all I can ask for.”