“Like a miracle!” That’s how Shaul Zoar, Manager at the ITEC – Kiryat Shmona, describes the arrival of the Israel Tennis & Education Center in his community of Kiryat Shmona.
Shaul was a relatively late comer to the ITEC, having not started playing tennis until he was in high school, but not really starting until the ITEC opened its center in Kiryat Shmona in 1979. It was a dangerous place to live being so close to the Lebanese border. He recalls looking up and seeing rocket attacks, sometimes on a daily basis. “I remember spending much of my youth in bomb shelters as a result of the 6-Day War and Yom Kippur War. I begged my parents to leave, but as immigrants from Iran in 1949, they adamantly refused. They said ‘We left one home. Israel is now our new home. We’ll fight to stay here’.”
Following his military service, Shaul returned to Kiryat Shmona to attend college. He also spent time hitting against the practice wall outside the center until he had the good fortune of being approached by the ITEC Manager about becoming a coach at the center, which he achieved in 1983. Five years later, Shaul was promoted to Manager of the center, where he has been mentoring young people and giving back to the community ever since.
“When I first started playing, my parents could not afford to give me a tennis racket. I had to borrow one each time I came to the center. But one day they handed me a racket and said I did not have to return it. It was one of the best days of my life.”
That experience underscored the many values and life skills that have made Shaul the person he is today. He has never forgotten the children left behind in Kiryat Shmona, an underserved community filled with children he has committed to help reach the best of their abilities. One such child was Dudi Sela, who he coached for several years and who has gone on to be an inspiring symbol for all the young people who strive to be a true champion, both on and off the court.
The programs at the ITEC Shaul is most proud of include those for special needs, both for children and adults who otherwise would have no way of experiencing the exhilaration of sport. He is launched a highly successful pilot program this past year in which an entire school of at risk children were adopted by the center, a school in a particularly poor area of town. These programs are all part of Shaul’s commitment to giving back to the community he calls home.
“My vision for the future is one in which every child in Kiryat Shmona wakes up in the morning with one thought in mind. They will be looking forward to who they will play on our court today. It’s the kind of dream I hope everyone who walks through our doors can experience for themselves.”