By ED KENSIK
For Montclair Local
Two local tennis instructors are working with a tennis pro from Ghana to help those in the African country play the game.
Aaron Reznik and Matt Slowinski, co-directors of the Montclair-Clifton-based tennis academy First Serve Tennis, which debuted in 2020, have connected with Francisca Nyarko, Ghana’s former No. 1 woman tennis player and a college student in the United States, for a drive to give Ghanaians the tools to play the sport.
Nyarko started “Rackets for Africa” to collect the equipment to help youths and others enjoy tennis.
She reached out to Reznik and Slowinski through LinkedIn, an online professional networking site.
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“I was looking for individuals that had the passion for charity work to support the program,” Nyarko said. “And I was also looking for partners, too, and gladly, when I contacted Aaron, he responded to me positively, and I am very grateful for that.”
For Reznik, this was a cause that was right down their alley. “We were looking to give back to people who did not have the opportunity to play tennis,” said the Montclair High School alum, who at one time was a nationally ranked tournament player. “She just messaged us on LinkedIn, and Matt and I thought it was perfect.”
His business partner agrees with him. “I’m really excited to help those who can’t afford the equipment and coaching to play tennis have the opportunity to be introduced to the game,” said Slowinski, who played four years of NCAA Division 1 college tennis at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
For “Rackets for Africa,” Reznik and Slowinski are currently running a drive to collect as many tennis rackets as possible. They will be sent to Ghana and possibly to other African nations.
There is a collection box at the Montclair Beach Club, on the border of Montclair and Clifton at 725 Grove Street, or donors can email First Serve Tennis at email@example.com. Reznik said he hopes to set up a collection box at Montclair High School, and to work with Montclair businesses to set up other boxes.
The deadline to collect the rackets is Nov. 8, but Reznik said it could be extended until Nov. 10.
Nyarko said that as an accomplished tennis player she wanted to give back to her country, especially to bring about future Nyarkos in tennis.
“I wanted to start this because there are a lot of talented kids and even adults in Africa who are really interested in the game, but they cannot afford the equipment,” she said. “There are kids who even borrow other people’s rackets to play for just 30 minutes because they do not have.”
Nyarko is just looking to pass it forward. In Ghana she started playing tennis at age 7 with a tennis racket that was given to her by the Africa Tennis Aid organization. She added that she started taking tennis seriously when she was 9. “I was practicing one day, I hit a shot, and the head of the racket broke very bad,” she said. “I was sad, but I got a new one and won a tournament less than two months later.”
Nyarko to her home country when she returns there for the December holidays.
The 22-year-old is a former top female tennis player in Ghana. She played for her country since she was 12.
She received a scholarship to study in the United States and got her undergraduate degree in sports management at Henderson State University in Arkansas. She is currently completing her master’s in sports administration at Henderson.
While done with college tennis, she is targeting 2022 to restart her professional career on the court next year.
This would be the third drive for a cause that Reznik and Slowinski have been a part of.
Last year the company did a benefit for the Israel Tennis and Learning Center and also ran a drive to help the Alaska Wilderness Center in honor of Reznik’s uncle, Adam Kolton. Kolton had helped out several organizations, especially environmental and wilderness groups.
The two are also looking at collecting tennis rackets to help local youths and adults who cannot afford the sport.