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PORTLAND -- Tennis is a game that people can play for a lifetime, but now we're finding out that tennis and academics make a strong combination.

The Portland After School Tennis and Education program is designed to help at-risk kids by giving them skills that can last a lifetime.

The days at the program start with a dance to get the blood flowing.

Nearly 60 scholar athletes, all considered at risk from lower income families, spread between three classes. They rotate between the court and the classroom.

Sixty percent of the time is in the classroom. We work on homework with all sorts of projects anything to stimulate their love of learning. That's what we're all about, said program director Danice Brown.

The nonprofit program has been run out of the St. Johns Tennis Center since 2009.

This program has helped me with grades. Ever since I started this program, I ve loved tennis, said Ristom Habtemariam.

It's the love of the game that has Habtemariam playing tournaments and looking forward to high school tennis.

But it's the help with academics and life skills these kids get that may be most valuable. What they need now is support from the community to keep the valuable program running strong.

We have secured this lease for the next 20 years, so they have a great house to come to learn and play tennis, Brown said.

Parents are encouraged to learn the game so they can play with their kids. It's also been successful. Twenty-two kids who have gone through the program are now in four-year colleges.

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KGW reporter Art Edwards contributed to this report.

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