“That’s good. Drive it. Keep the backswing low,” calls out Mike Trueblood, recently named national Big Brother of 2011, to Joseph, his little brother, across the net on a public tennis court in La Ca√±ada. After a long back-and-forth rally, the 13-year-old hits the yellow ball into the net. “Good try,” the 81-year-old mentor says. “OK, show me the volley stroke.”Joseph moves to the net, holding his oversized Wilson metal racket up high. The young Monrovian resident, who lives with his great-grandmother and five of his seven siblings, looks like he’d fit in at any tennis club with his bright blue zipped-up jacket with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters logo, black Nike shorts and Vans athletic shoes. His gray-haired partner also looks fit in a blue Big Brothers Big Sisters T-shirt over a white jersey and warm-up pants.           “Bang! It’s like hitting a hammer --- not much backstroke. And step forward if you can.”          After Joseph hits five volleys, he returns to the backcourt to practice his favorite shot, the two-handed backhand made popular by tennis stars Chris Everett and Andre Agassi. “You hit that one on the frame ’cause you weren’t looking,” Mike points out. “You want to put it right in the center of the racquet.” Then, after a return: “That’s good but with a little more ‘oomph.’ Pretend you’re in a tournament. I want you to make the other guy run by hitting the ball where he isn’t. Drive it over here.”          Joseph hits the ball hard down the left side.          When Mike says they’ve got time for a couple of games, Joseph moves across the court and promptly serves a line drive into the corner.          “Oh, you aced me! Good serve. What’s the score?”          “Fifteen-love.”           Joseph takes the first game, Mike the second. “It’s about time to go, Joseph,” says the big brother walking up to the net. “OK, we shake hands, right?”The little brother smiles, holding out a palm. Ongoing bondTennis has played a big part in the bonding of Mike Trueblood and Joseph over the last three-and-a-half years. Mike still plays competitive tennis at the senior level and his son, Mark, had a tennis scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. Mike’s wife, Phyllis, and their three grown daughters also are avid tennis players.           “So I just decided I’d teach Joseph how to play tennis, and that’s been ongoing,” he reports. “I’m only with him every other Saturday, but I’d say two-thirds of the time we spend at least an hour on the tennis court. He really likes it. I found him a pro to give him a few lessons, and a couple weeks ago he played in his first novice under-14 USTA [United States Tennis Association] tournament and did pretty well.           “But the thing I was most proud about was Joseph shook hands with the players who beat him. Before, in a croquet game he got so mad that he wouldn’t shake hands. So that was a real teachable moment when we had a little tough love lecture, and now he understands that little piece of etiquette.”          When they first were matched in Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters’ “Children of Promise” program for kids of incarcerated parents, Joseph and five of his seven siblings were being raised by their great-grandmother Geneva. One of her own five children, Samuel, got the family in contact with the agency and in August 2007 Mike and Joseph were paired together.          “Joseph was interested, maybe not all that outgoing at the beginning,” the big brother recalls. “But that would be kind of natural. He’s just a young kid being matched with a 77-year-old grandfather type. But it was pretty easy to break the ice. Just by asking him questions, I was able to tell that he does pretty well in school. And the first thing I picked up on is he loves to read.”          So one of their first forays was to the Monrovia Public Library to check out some books. Figuring that it would help the adolescent express himself better, he urged Joseph to write a report on every book or story he read. The boy agreed and his appetite for reading has only increased.           “I like scary, scary books like ‘Frightmares,’” Joseph says today. “But I’ve also read quite a few Hardy Boy mysteries that Mike’s son has loaned or given me. I like them, too.”          So the pair began exploring other libraries and educational places. There were Saturday visits to an Asian library and the Art Center in Pasadena plus the observatory in Griffith Park. Then Mike, who directs the Family Business Council in the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University Fullerton, brought Joseph down to a campus open house for future students. The youngster left with a renewed interest in going to college.          “That was interesting,” Joseph points out. “The place was really cool. I got to meet some new people, and it was amazing ’cause I learned a lot of stuff that I’m going to be doing in college. One thing I learned is if you’re good in high school you can get into college.”          After a moment, he adds, “I always wanted to go to college from the start, but seeing the campus made me want to go more. I actually want to be a tennis player; but if I don’t make it as a pro, I want to be a school counselor. I feel that there are people out there who just need to be helped, and there’s a lot of bullying around school.”          Other weekend adventures have taken them to Dodger Stadium, the Gold Line train to Union Station, the Los Angeles Zoo and the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, where Joseph won a goldfish bowl and basketball for throwing balls through a hoop.  And just a couple weeks ago they went to a hands-on music workshop at the Alex Theater in Glendale where the music-loving teenager, with hand-fingering help from a member of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, played “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”          “He loves music and it’s not Wagner, but it’s really good,” says Mike. “I’m a big believer in culture, and I want him to be exposed to all this stuff. I’ve only taken him to one movie, ’cause I figure going to movies isn’t a very good use of our time. But we did go to ‘Toy Story III’ and we both liked it. ” Becoming pals          But where they usually wind up, especially after tennis or walking Mike’s dog, Max, is where they are this Saturday afternoon --- at McDonald’s. Joseph is munching on a Happy Meal hamburger and fries along with a cookie. Mike is just watching him enjoy his meal. When asked by a tag-along visitor how a   13-year-old black kid and an 81-year-old white guy could become such good pals, Mike is the first to respond.           “When you become good friends with each other and can talk with each other and trust each other, the race card goes away and I think the age difference goes away,” he observes. “I’m pretty young in terms of interests and outlook, and I’m in good shape. My wife kind of refers to me as being the ‘Eveready Bunny’ ’cause I’m on the go a lot. And I’m still working a full schedule at the university, although I am planning to retire in July.”          Joseph nods. “Well, if you have something in common, anything in common, then you can become friends just like that,” he says. “And we both like tennis for one thing. And we enjoy people’s company and each other’s company. And we could probably give advice to anybody with the right answer. So I’m glad my uncle found me a big brother. It’s meant a whole lot.          “I felt like a needed somebody in my life, like a dad, and Mike has kind of been that,” Joseph adds. “Because he takes care of me. Like, he’ll feed me when I’m hungry. He’ll take me places that I haven’t been before. He’s understanding and he’s caring. I really look forward to our Saturdays and having fun. It’s like they’re summer days.”           CAPTION: see CNS/Tidings 04-15 BONDING — Tennis has helped little brother Joseph and big brother Mike Trueblood bond together. The 13-year-old recently played in his first novice tournament.           R. W. DELLINGER