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Worklife 101

Free lessons from a tennis pro instead of math or spelling?

Sounds too good to be true. Almost like . . . a racket.

"They have a blast," said Westchase tennis pro William Thomas, whose instructors will share court time with hundreds of school children this week. "They get to do stuff and be active and we have some games that are just a hoot."

Thomas, who operates tennis camps throughout the northern Hillsborough suburbs, is among hundreds of professionals who will donate their time this week as part of the Great American Teach-In.

Along with the lessons, he gives each participant a coupon for another free lesson at a Team Thomas camp.

"This may be one of the only times these kids will be able to meet a tennis professional," said Thomas.

And that's the whole idea behind the annual teach-in, exposing children of all ages to a variety of professions they might one day choose for themselves.

The official date of the teach-in is Wednesday, but some schools are holding it on other days to accommodate as many presenters as possible.

Sponsored by the Hillsborough Education Foundation, the annual event draws more than 8,000 professionals including bankers, attorneys, nurses, government employees, athletes and restaurant managers.

Each spends as much as an hour in the classroom helping students understand the importance of education to their future success. Thomas and his pros will be at Westchase Elementary School on Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

McKitrick Elementary School in Lutz will receive a visit from flight surgeon Dr. Robert Schmitz while counter-terrorism expert Frank Hall addresses Walker Middle School.

Guests at New Tampa schools include clown Robin Singleton at Chiles Elementary, saxophone player Allen Darcy at Hunter's Green Elementary and Tampa Police Chief Benny Holder at Benito Middle School.

In Town 'N Country, Leto High School will play host to Vietnam-era F-16 fighter pilot Col. Bruce Lamping.

Sickles High community specialist Theresa Aucoin has been recruiting for months. So far she's lined up Channel 28 newscaster Martie Tucker, Channel 8 investigative reporter Steve Andrews, U92 radio personality Mason Dixon, and some cooking pros from Leroy Selmon's southern-styled restaurant.

And one of the professionals is actually a Sickles student. "We have one student here, John Gallo, who started his own business at the age of 15," Aucoin said. "He's a florist and is going to talk about realizing the dream of starting your own business."

At Citrus Park Elementary, assistant principal Diana Koch also looks forward to a bumper crop of presenters. "One gentleman collects tropical fish from South America," Koch said. "We have somebody coming from Bayflite, and someone from the Tampa Police Department is working on bringing a police helicopter.

"It's very interesting to see all the variety of careers out there. I think it's wonderful for the students to have an opportunity to see what careers are available to them at an early age."

To participate in the teach-in, call any Hillsborough County school.

_ Times staff writer Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 226-3464 or at mabesptimes.com

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