On a recent chilly Friday night, Fleming Tennis Center on Chester Avenue in south Augusta seemed to be the place to be for children and teenagers.
Dozens practiced on the tennis courts while others were inside the activity center doing their homework or lifting weights.
"We've seen tremendous growth," said Michael Harden, the founder of the MACH Academy, which was named the 2006 U.S. Tennis Association's Southern Section National Junior Tennis League of the Year.
While many of the 1,500 players ages 5 to 18 who participate in the programs live near the tennis center, others are from outlying areas.
"We've got kids who come from Aiken and North Augusta," he said, and others come from Martinez and Evans.
"This is a holistic program. It's a difference-maker in education and in building kids' self-esteem and physical fitness," said Terry Provost, of Aiken, a team captain whose daughter Zakiya participates in the program.
The academy's program diversity is one of the reasons the organization won its recent award, Mr. Harden said.
Its tennis program is strong. Top tennis players from several area high schools, including the Academy of Richmond County and A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School, train with MACH Academy.
"I started playing here when I was 7," said Jazmine Scott, an A.R. Johnson junior who was the No. 1 seed on her team last year.
Dewayne Dixon started at the academy about a year ago. He wanted to play tennis at A.R. Johnson, and the coach suggested that he get lessons at MACH.
"I couldn't even hit the ball," he said.
The training has paid off.
"They are friendly, but they work hard still. It pushes you," he said.
During the summer, Kariah Kelly won a national 10-and-under tennis tournament in California. A few months ago, Jayla Scott won a state title for girls 12 and under in Valdosta, Ga.
Other players have used the tennis skills they learned at MACH to earn college scholarships, Mr. Harden said. An example is Terese Lavan, a 2006 North Augusta High School graduate who is on a tennis scholarship at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.
Academics is a major thrust of the academy, which offers tutoring and computer classes. The organization recently joined with Troy University and the Georgia Family Crisis Solutions Counseling Center to augment its programs.
For more information, call (706) 796-5046.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at firstname.lastname@example.org.