Investigators believe a fire that destroyed a building at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center was started intentionally. Nobody was injured, but equipment used for an inner-city youth outreach program was destroyed.
“These are umpire chairs that we use for our professional tournament. Doesn't look like it, but they're $1,700 apiece and there's four of them,” says Steve Henry, as he surveys the damage.
Tennis matches were not interrupted Tuesday morning for most people, but more than 30 kids who are part of the First Serve outreach program were left sitting on the sidelines, watching everyone else play. The kids were all given tennis shoes and a racquet as part of the eight-week-long tennis camp. They kept their equipment inside the building that was set on fire.
“We provide the shoes and racquets for them. They left them here overnight,” explains Henry. “Those are tennis racquets right there. What's left of them.”
The fire charred the shoes and racquets for kids in First Serve. It also destroyed the free meals the kids get every day.
“We were trying to use this as a learning tool,” says Henry. “This is what not to do and what can happen and not to destroy other people's property and the hassle that it put everyone through.”
Investigators believe the fire was started on purpose. Battalion Chief Brian Stanaland with the Oklahoma City Fire Department says the tennis center was vandalized multiple times in the last few months. He added that the contents inside the building could have created a very dangerous situation for firefighters.
“We weren't aware immediately, but once we discovered those propane tanks, those were successfully moved away from the fire and didn't give us any problems.”
Luckily nobody was hurt, but Henry hopes someone will step in to help restore the outreach program.
“Those kids can't afford that stuff, so donations of racquets would be much appreciated,” he explains.
The OKC Tennis Center has two tournaments in August that usually attract more than 1,000 people. If you are interested in donating equipment to the First Serve outreach program, call the OKC Tennis Center at (405) 946-2739.