PHILADELPHIA - Coming into Saturday's Ivy League Opener, women's tennis had no small task facing them as the defending Ivy League Champion Princeton Tigers descended upon the Penn campus, looking to start out the defense of that Ivy title. However, Penn would have the home-crowd advantage on its side, courtesy of the program's "biggest" fans, as Katie at the Bat was in attendance to watch their role models compete on the big stage.
The Katie At The Bat Team is a non-profit organization that uses organized athletics as a means to empower inner-city youth, helping them to reach their full potential in all aspects of life. Katie at the Bat focuses on character development, nutrition, fitness and academic assistance to help the at-risk youth make positive life choices. Throughout the year, the women's tennis team at Penn had given of its time to Katie at the Bat and now the Katie team was able to return to the Penn Campus and root for their home team.
"The Penn women's tennis team got involved with Katie at the Bat because the players and the coaches full-heartedly agree with and support Katie at the Bat's mission of using the vehicle of sports to empower inner-city kids," explained Sanela Kunovac, the second-year head coach of Penn Women's Tennis.
Alexa Ely, a senior captain on the women's team described a typical day with the Katie team. "Usually we have one hour of tennis where we teach the kids how to warm up properly for physical exercise, stretching and of course the basic tennis skills. We also try to encourage them to be supportive and encouraging to each other, to learn to be good teammates and leaders. We also have them for an additional hour where we have lunch with them and talk about anything and everything. [We talk about] their school, my school, colleges in general, post-high school opportunities, what they enjoy doing with their time, family life and more. The teachers also bring an activity every time we see them which range from writing down personal goals to drawing a picture of a tennis court and labeling the lines."
With the home crowd cheering them on the entire way, Penn swept through the doubles competition and took two of the first three individual matches to take a 3-1 lead, putting Penn in position to open up the Ivy League schedule with an upset victory. However, Penn dropped three tight matches to come up just one point short of the victory. Despite the loss, the end result could not put a damper on the excitement that Katie at the Bat got from seeing their role models in intercollegiate competition.
Katie at the Bat has very close ties with Penn as Lisa S. Hoffstein, President and Founder of Katie at the Bat, received three degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, including an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Degree in 1981, Graduate School of Education - Masters in 1981, and a Wharton MBA in 1988. During her time as a student-athlete at Penn, Hoffstein also played four years of varsity tennis, including serving as captain during her senior season. Hoffstein maintains her local ties as a resident of Lower Merion, while Katie at the Bat offices are located in Narberth.
"It has been such a thrill to bring together the Katie At The Bat Team with my alma mater, especially the women's tennis team. The fifth graders at The Daroff School in West Philadelphia look forward to every moment with their Penn mentors and coaches. Coach Kunovac, along with the classroom teacher Ms. Glacken, have been such incredible role models who understand the importance of this partnership and the invaluable experience we are providing for everyone involved. This is about opening doors and changing lives."
Since her graduation from Penn, Hoffstein has dedicated her professional life to helping the disenfranchised youth in society. She has also been a classroom teacher in the Philadelphia Public Schools and the Quaker Schools. In addition to her work with Katie at the Bat, Hoffstein designed the Wharton West Philadelphia Project, which serves as an outreach program bringing Penn together with other local urban communities. For her work, Hoffstein was recognized as the 1997 recipient of the Rolex Intercollegiate Tennis Association Achievement Award for her career achievements and contributions to society. The opportunity to support Katie at the Bat's mission is not lost on the women's tennis team at Penn.
"We at the Penn women's tennis team believe that everyone has an ability to positively contribute to the community where they live. Our players are well aware of the amazing opportunities they have as members of the larger Penn community and we, as the coaches, are working on teaching them to always look for the ways in which they can improve the well being of those around them," Kunovac said. "On the tennis court during Katie at the Bat sessions, our players strike a common bond with inner-city kids through tennis. Although the kids come from very different backgrounds and with different life stories than our players, at the end, the byproduct of our activities is mutual respect and a unique opportunity to educate one another."
Ely echoed those same sentiments by her coach. "It is rewarding for me to know that I have something I can offer to other people in my community. I have devoted a large portion of my life to tennis and I enjoy trying to pass my love for the sport down to new faces. I also think that just by nature of my age I am in a position to talk to younger kids about how I got to this position in life. [I can speak about] how I decided to come to college, how I got there, what I needed to do, the importance of certain aspects of life that seem trivial when you are younger, etc. I think an ideal community is one in which people are concerned about helping everyone around them and taking an interest in other people. Fo Katie At The Bat specifically, I love coming because of the kids. I have always liked teaching tennis to younger kids and I really enjoy all of the time I spend there.
Since starting the program in 2006, Katie at the Bat has been a positive influence in the lives of over 250 inner-city youth. The Katie Team prides itself on working with the youth throughout the year in order to maintain the greatest impact possible on these youth. Katie programs offer a small adult-to-student ratio so that students can receive as much individual attention as possible. For more information about Katie at the Bat, log on to www.katieatthebatteam.org.
Additional Photos from Katie at the Bat's visit