Two days after a storage building at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center burned down, there are signs of recovery. Fire investigators say the fire was deliberately set late Monday night, resulting in more than $45,000 in damages.
A local youth outreach group called “First Serve” suffered the most. Their tennis shoes and rackets, all provided by the center, were destroyed. Steven Henry, director of the Oklahoma City Tennis Center, said many of the children come from families that cannot afford to replace the items.
“I was really sad because all the stuff was in there, and they had just got a bunch of new rackets and stuff and they all burned,” Marla Knight, a participant in the First Serve group, said.
She and about 30 other participants were back at the courts Thursday. They were surprised that so many good people in the area decided to chip in and replace the destroyed equipment. Emmy Hufnagel, who runs the outreach program, said that donations poured in immediately after word of the fire spread. They got new rackets and new tennis shoes, but through it all, Coach Hufnagel taught the group a valuable lesson.
“We're learning that you can work really hard at something and then, you know, someone with a bad act can undo a lot of that,” said Emmy Hufnagel, director of First Serve. “Respect yourself and respect others and you know to keep focus on the positive to be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.”
Hufnagel and the kids were thrilled with the outpouring of support.
“Think about the child that they've affected. The person that may not have had the opportunity to play tennis. The gratitude that they've shown is going to be given, paid forward through these kids,” Hufnagel explained.
With their new gear and parents looking on, the kids of First Serve got back out onto the courts to show off what they have learned during the past eight weeks of camp.
Miracle Sao, a first-year participant, said, “It built up my confidence about tennis, and I made some new friends.”
Donations came in as far away as Texas, where some kids saw the story and decided to help out.