Operation Pride mentors inner-city kids through tennis

It’s always go-time for Cheri King. The Berkeley native may be 70, but her passion and energy would say no way!  She has lived a full life.  A teacher, a flight attendant and project manager but her favorite title of all...

“COACH CHERI!!,” yelled out her students.  

“You know it really feels wonderful to be called coach because it is a relationship that you start with ... and you get the kids to a point where they move on.  Alright, so when they move on they dont have that feeling of loss, but that feeling of graduation.”  

Coach Cherri’s Family Foundation, Operation Pride, started 37 years ago.  The goal was to build character in children through sports.  It started with a tennis lesson a week, and in 2006 the USTA got involved to help establish the Berkeley National Junior Tennis League.  Now, city kids get lesson three times a week, a summer league, and 10 yearly tournaments.  

“Some of the juniors out here started when they were five years old. So to see a five year old child as I look up and they’re on their high school team will that’s what the reward to me,” said King.    

he program has taught well over 1,000 children over the years from ages five to 17.  And these are city kids who may have never picked up a racket.  Now they are getting schooled on the fundamentals of tennis and loving every bit of it.  

“She's always there for me. She always looks out for me, looking over my shoulder. She has shown me what it can be like to grow up playing tennis,” said Berkeley High School freshman Maya Curry.  

Cheri has had help along the way, like El Cerrito HighSchool coach Barbara Lewis among others.  And these mentors are teaching so much more than tennis!  "It's helped me with social skills.  Like before I came here I was anti-social. Now I can express myself and make friends," said Amber Hernandez an Oakland High School sophomore.  

Cassidy Clark who is on the El Cerrito High School tennis team agrees. "It's character building.  Because I don’t have confidence issues but just knowing when I'm playing that people are watching, I can still perform well under pressure. That really helps my character even when I am at school and stuff.”  

Cheri is a gamer and by teaching these youngsters the proper way to play the game , she is setting them up for success and that was her goal from day one.  

“They said if you teach children and you allow them to have fun, what happens is the character automatically comes out."  

Operation Pride has been building strong, young minds and bodies in Berkeley now since 1982.