Coach from England teaching tennis to Pine Ridge students

By Associated Press

PINE RIDGE (AP) — A longtime tennis coach in England has been offering free tennis classes on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Leigh Owen, 50, has been visiting Pine Ridge regularly since 1997 and has been enamored with the people and their culture since he was an 8-year-old boy, when he asked his mom to write to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, he told the Rapid City Journal.

“I don’t know exactly why,” Owen said by phone, “but I was interested in the Native-American culture since childhood.”

Owen began coaching at Red Cloud Indian School in February, spending one day a week at the school. Although Red Cloud does not have a formal tennis court, the school’s gym is perfect for what Owen calls “mini-tennis,” allowing his students to work on technique.

“The kids really liked it,” he said.

Patrick Welch, a physical education teacher at Red Cloud Elementary and assistant athletic director at the middle school, said Owen is doing an amazing job. Welch said kids on the reservation know basketball, football and cross country running, but tennis was foreign to them.

“Leigh got the kids interested; he grabbed their attention right off the bat,” Welch said.

Owen said the United States Tennis Association has been generous in providing equipment for the fledgling tennis players.

Tony Stingley, director of training and outreach for USTA’s northern district, estimated that the organization has donated more than $1,200 worth of equipment.

Owen said he is determined to turn the reservation he loves into a mecca for the sport he loves, and he and Welch are thinking big. They want to renovate some outdoor courts for what could become a tennis center.

Owen is back in Liverpool but will return to the United States in early September.