Roosevelt Boys Tennis Lobs for Success

Created on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 07:00 | Written by Kerry Eggers | The Portland Tribune

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Freshman Miguel Diaz-DeLeon of Roosevelt High returns a shot in a Portland Interscholastic League home match last week against Franklin.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - Freshman Miguel Diaz-DeLeon of Roosevelt High returns a shot in a Portland Interscholastic League home match last week against Franklin.

Tennis is more country club than public courts. It can be an expensive sport, with equipment and lessons and travel often leaving high school teams in the higher socio-economic areas taking home the most trophies.

Sometimes, though, hard work and determination negates such factors. John Block is trying to help make that happen at Roosevelt High.

Block, 25, is in his first season as the Roughriders boys’ head coach. The director of tennis at St. Johns Racquet Center in North Portland, Block is trying to put together a program that can match the best the PIL has to offer.

Prize freshmen Miguel Diaz-DeLeon and Alberto Murillo will lead the Roughriders into the PIL district meet, which starts today at Grant. They probably won’t win, but Block expects his team to be competitive.

“The biggest thing is, we want the kids to be proud of what they have,” Block says.

Roosevelt has been a cellar-dweller through the years in boys tennis, in no small part to an aging facility and inadequate equipment.

When Block showed up at Roosevelt in late winter to survey the courts, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

“The nets were shot,” he says. “There were cracks (in the surface) everywhere. Grass was growing in the cracks. One of the kids called it ‘grass-phalt.’ Trash littered the perimeter. Lines were barely noticeable, if they existed. You couldn’t tell if the ball was in or out.”

Instead of practicing, the Roosevelt players spent the first few days working the courts.

“They swept the courts with push brooms so they could paint the lines by hand,” says Block, who played his high school tennis at Grant.

“The lines were pretty bad, but we got some paint and did it ourselves, which was actually fun,” says Diaz-DeLeon, 15, Roosevelt’s No. 1 singles player. After the work was completed, “they’re pretty nice now for outside courts.”

Sophomore Cortland Wallingford, half of Roosevelt’s No. 1 doubles tandem, created a team logo that was painted onto the courts.

“We love the courts now, even though they’re not the best,” Block says.

Many of Block’s 12 varsity players — there is no freshman or junior varsity team — didn’t own racquets. For the first month, the Roughriders trained with wooden racquets found in the basement of the school.

“Our practice balls are kind of dead, but we don’t complain about it,” Block says. “There were some practice balls left in the basement, and I got some dead balls from St. Johns we were able to use. We got them re-pressurized at the start of the season. They worked until our first practice in the rain.”

The budget allowed for team uniforms purchased through Nike, on par with those used by other PIL programs.

There was some serendipity in Block’s hiring at Roosevelt. He had worked with both Diaz-DeLeon and Murillo, as well as several other players, in St. Johns’ Portland After School Tennis & Education (PASTE) program, which offers tutoring and life-skills instruction as well as tennis skill work. Diaz-DeLeon and Murillo are the two oldest year-round students in PASTE’s high school academy, which allows them to participate in a youth developmental tennis program and compete in USTA Junior Division tournaments.

Block “is a really good coach,” says Murillo, 14, who like Diaz-DeLeon has been a member of the PASTE program since grade school. “He’s the one who taught me how to play really good tennis.”

The 5-5, 125-pound Diaz-DeLeon and the 5-11, 200-pound Murillo led the way to a team victory over Benson — “first time ever,” Block says — and close losses to Wilson and Cleveland. Diaz-DeLeon is 5-2 in PIL matches, Murillo 3-4.

“They’re getting better all the time,” Block says. “We’re going to have a good run with them over the next few years. By the time they’re seniors, they should be threats at the state tournament. And we have five or six kids coming up who look just like they did at that age.”

Murillo has high goals, too.

“I feel like I did really well for my first year,” he says, “but so did a lot of our guys. We’re going to get better. We’d like to win the (PIL) team title before we’re through.”

DeLeon and Murillo will play their home matches somewhere else the next two years.

“There is going to be construction on campus, and we’re going to lose these courts,” Block says. “Our tennis program will be off-campus for the next two years, and then we’ll have brand-new courts when they’re seniors.”

Fielding a competitive team is big for Block. But something else carries even greater importance.

“I didn’t expect to come to Roosevelt and have a group of kids who are willing to work this hard — paint their own lines, sweep their own courts, and work as hard as they do in a practice,” he says. “It’s a real enthusiastic group of guys. We joke around a lot, but we also take it pretty seriously. We like to compete.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen that from a school like Roosevelt. It was a cool surprise to have a great group of kids to work with.” 

Thank You Coach Luke!

PAST&E is very fortunate to have had "Dual-Hand Luke" at St. Johns Racquet Center all day Sunday, February 15th. Luke Jensen, French Open Champion, donated his time to host both a junior and adult tennis clinic at SJRC. For three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, Luke Jensen enthusiastically taught the lifelong sport of tennis to players ages 8 to 65.

Luke Jensen partnered with Jonathan Stark, French Open and Wimbledon Champion and PAST&E Board Member, and PAST&E Tennis Professionals to train the Scholar Athletes. Luke's love for tennis and positivity lit up St. Johns Racquet Center. Scholar Athletes were thrilled to learn from "Dual-Hand Luke."

Trish and Keene Satchwell, PAST&E supporters, purchased the junior clinic from Luke Jensen at the Sixth Annual "Sip, Serve, and Celebrate" fundraiser for PAST&E back in October. Trish and Keene generously donated the junior clinic to the PAST&E Scholar Athletes, so the Elephants and Cheetahs had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Luke Jensen. Additionally, Tom Carter, supporter of PAST&E, purchased the adult clinic and invited friends and family to train with the greatest.

Thank you to Luke Jensen, Jonathan Stark, the Satchwells, Tom Carter, and all supporters of PAST&E for this amazing opportunity!

Book Delivery

Last Thursday, West Hills General Manager, Karey Welling, along with Whitley, Heather, and Sue Beth visited PAST&E to deliver books gifted to our Scholar Athletes through the West Hills Giving Tree. A big thanks to Karey and all the members at West Hills for their generous gifts! 

Social Media Spirit Award Recipient

THANK YOU to all of our Facebook followers for your amazing support in the Singing For Change Foundation campaign on Facebook back in November! We were recently notified that, with your likes, comments, shares, and photo captions, we won the Social Media Spirit Award, a $2500 grant! 

Again, PAST&E could not do all the work we do without support of family, friends, colleagues, and donors. All are welcome to visit PAST&E to see how we serve during our after-school and summer programs. Contact Associate Director, Steph Haas, at program@pastande.org to find out how!

Science Club with the Portland Junior Scientists

Every Monday, the Portland Junior Scientists (PJS) lead Science Club at Portland After School Tennis and Education. PJS is a student-run, community service organization where high school students unite with at-risk youth to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, spend the afternoon with our Scholar Athletes. 

This month Scholar Athletes experimented with the hydrophobic qualities of liquids, Non-Newtonian Fluids, gravity, and catalysts and chemical changes. Check out their experiments below!

Nike Tennis Visits PAST&E

On Thursday, one of our biggest supporters Mike Nakajima and the Nike Tennis team made a very, very special visit to Portland After-School Tennis & Education to spend an afternoon in the life of a PAST&E Scholar Athlete! Divided into Davis Cup Teams, they worked hard "on and off the court" in the team competition with the Scholar Athletes, volunteers, and Coach/Tutors. 

This event was an awesome way for Nike employees to have the opportunity to meet our Scholar athletes. At the end of the day, much to every Scholar Athletes' delight, Mike and the Nike Tennis Team presented them all with a Nike bag that contained new court shoes and PAST&E uniform! 

THANK YOU to all Nike employees who took time out their day to visit PAST&E and meet the Scholar Athletes!