| By Eric Dietsche

Playing tennis at Deer Park Indoor Tennis Club has had more than one meaning for me. It was more than just ladder matches and group lessons. It has become about the Sundays that I have spent playing tennis with the SCORE (Student Caring Offers Recreational Excel-lence) guys, who come from a group home in East Northport, N.Y. At this juncture in my life, when I am about to head off to college in the fall, it is with great pride that I tell you about the great things that are happening at the Deer Park Indoor Tennis Club. I would also like to extend my immense gratitude to Afzal Ali for giving me the opportunity to take part in these activities.

The SCORE program has been running at Deer Park for the past five years. It has been under the leadership of three highly motivated high school boys: Matt Levine, Mark Broomfield and me. The program was started five years ago by Matt Levine, who saw an opportunity to brighten the day of several mentally- and physically-handicapped young men.
Since 2007, I have taken the responsibility as the head volunteer and the manager of the SCORE program. I learned the ropes my first year, under the direction of Mark Broomfield, and have since taken over the past two years. I work to make sure that there is court time available, which is made possible through the generosity of Deer Park Tennis and Afzal Ali, who set aside an hour of court time every week. I also arrange for a certain number of other volunteers to come every week so that the program can run smoothly. We have a number of great volunteers who have worked with me to make this program the success that it is today.
This year, since I will be going to college in the fall, I had the responsibility of finding someone to take over my role in the program. I wanted to make sure that I chose a responsible individual who would be as committed to the program as I was to ensure that the young men have the opportunity to play every week. I wanted to find someone who was young enough that they would be able to spend a good couple of years bonding with the participants as I had. I also wanted someone who was kind, caring and hard-working. I would only be able to feel comfortable leaving if I could find someone who met my criteria.
Luckily, I was able to find two people who met my criteria: Brett and Eric Teplitz, two brothers who are also part of the junior development program at Deer Park. They will be the people who will carry this worthwhile program into the future, teaching the great game of tennis to the people who really appreciate it. 
I will sorely miss all of the relationships that I have built through this program over the years. I remember almost every week from when I started, including the first time that Ryan, our most active participant, hit a backhand in a rally, and his reaction to this progress. When he is happy, everyone is happy because his smile and his good humor are contagious.
I will always remember the time that Darin would spend chasing me around the court, pretending to be a ghost. Brian, and his obsession with being in control of the ball cart, is yet another unforgettable experience. However, probably most of all, I will never forget the supreme effort that our other Brian, the only one with a physical handicap, put into playing every week. His face lights up every time he makes contact, then he looks to us for another opportunity to hit the ball. All of these experiences will forever remain in my heart.
I truly believe that I have learned more from our participants in this program about life than I could have ever taught them about tennis, and I have Afzal Ali, the head pro at the Deer Park Indoor Tennis Club, to thank for that. They approach everything with a positive attitude and a smile. They teach me every week just how lucky I am, and that none of us really have anything to complain about at all, even when life seems to be at its most overwhelming.

Although I am extremely sad to be leaving Deer Park and everything that it has offered me, including the SCORE program, I am confident that I will be leaving the program in good hands. Afzal has done so much already, but I don’t think that he will have to worry, since the Teplitz brothers will be in charge. I am extremely grateful to Afzal for giving me the opportunity to participate in this life-changing experience. I have become a different person through it.

Eric Dietsche

<p>Eric Dietsche is a senior and valedictorian of the Class of 2009 at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, N.Y. As a five-time varsity letter winner in tennis, he is also a two-time All-League Player. He also won the title of Most Valuable Player in the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association in 2009. He plans to attend Williams College in Massachusetts in the fall where he&rsquo;ll play tennis. He may be reached by e-mail at edietsche@gmail.com.</p>