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2011 Year in Review: Jr. Team Tennis

November 29, 2011 04:15 PM
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
 
In 2011 the United States Tennis Association’s Jr. Team Tennis family celebrated one of its most successful calendar years to-date, as program participation was up across the board and the influx of 10 and Under Tennis tournaments and graduates points to greater participation from a wider age range in the coming years.
 
As of early November, over 90,000 players in the USTA’s 17 sections across America participated in the 2011 Championship Year, a 12-percent increase over the 2010 campaign. Pairing up kids of similar ability levels and varied backgrounds, the path to learning how to play and win as a team is lengthy – 18 months, roughly – but the opportunity for growth is great for all parties involved. 
 
From players and their parents, to coaches, providers, coordinators and everyone in between, Jr. Team Tennis continues to be about everyone doing their best to make their teammates that much better.
 
"The impact of Jr. Team Tennis goes beyond the tennis skills gained on the court," says Julie Watson Dick, who was honored back in February as the Janet Louer USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Organizer of the Year award recipient. "It is my greatest hope that, through tennis, all these kids will find greatness in themselves. As an organizer, I’m glad to have given them an opportunity that will last a lifetime."
 
A native of Georgetown, Ky., Dick sought to champion youth tennis after participating in a Recreational Coaches Workshop in 2009. Like so many other organizers, Dick embraced the wave of 10 and Under Tennis and volunteered her services to teach the kids. Where she went above and beyond was off the court, organizing and founding her own Jr. Team Tennis League - the first of its kind in Georgetown. Founding a Community Tennis Association (CTA), Dick relentlessly educated peers and pursued courts for her new programming with the help of local parks and schools. 
 
To replicate the success of Dick and many of the best organizers, the USTA designated a new cross-functional team of section coordinators, local providers, and other national staff to work together in developing and designing a 40-minute online course: "How to Organize a Jr. Team Tennis League." Heading into 2012, the hope is that a new series of established best practices highlighted in the course can unearth team tennis in untapped communities and re-establish the game in old ones.
 
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From the 90,000-plus who began the journey from local league play right up through Sectionals, a special sect – 507 players in all – earned the right to travel in October to sunny Surprise, Ariz. for the 2011 USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships. The best of the 14 & Under and 18 & Under Intermediate and Advanced divisions were treated to an event befitting most high-profile professional athletes: Flying across the country, staying in a nice resort hotel, eating catered meals and playing in front of a packed crowd in the stands. 
 
Players, coaches and parents alike received a grand entrance to the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Club, entering the main stadium in the first-ever Jr. Team Tennis "Parade of Sections," modeled after the Opening Ceremonies one would find in a Summer Olympiad. The parade blended some of the traditional aspects of Nationals with the new as each of the 64 teams were asked to walk and hold high their homemade team banners, created to highlight team spirit – a longtime staple of the event.
 
From there the action began in the "Valley of the Sun," the courts awash in sunshine and dried from the 95-degree heat. For three whole days the action was just as hot as USTA Southern swept the 14 & Under event, their teams from Matthews, N.C. (Intermediate) and Alpharetta, Ga. (Advanced) taking home titles. The following weekend Southern claimed another, as Knoxville’s "Team Tennessee" won the 18 & Under Intermediate National Championship. USTA Texas’s veteran-laden team from Austin emerged from the 18 & Under Advanced to take their second national crown in three years.
 
Lastly, the 2011 tournament served as a unique breakthrough for 17-year-old Shelby Baron from USTA Hawaii Pacific. Baron became the first player ever to compete at the Jr. Team Tennis National Championships in a wheelchair, representing Kilauea Junior Tennis in the 18 & Under Intermediate Division. In addition to competing in her first Jr. Team Tennis Nationals in 2011, Baron also  traveled to Tshwane, South Africa, where she represented the United States at April’s 2011 World Team Cup, one of the most prestigious wheelchair tournaments in the world.
 
"Maybe when other people see this, hopefully they will want to play tennis," said Baron. "There is track, basketball and other sports for wheelchair players and with any luck this will inspire others to pick up a racket, join a team and play."
 
Having taken three of four national championships, USTA Southern will get a chance to defend their hardware on home turf, as the cities of Cayce and Lexington, South Carolina, have been chosen to host the 2012 and 2013 USTA Jr. Team Tennis National Championships. The events will be played October 19-21 for the 14U divisions and October 26-28 for the 18 & Under divisions.
 
The sites selected  is the "New" Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center which has 30 courts, seven permanent 36′ courts and twelve lined 60′ courts, and a two- story 11,000 sq. ft clubhouse with fitness and conference rooms. The other selected facility is the Lexington County Tennis Complex, which has 21 courts, including six 60′ lined courts, a two-story 4,200 sq. ft clubhouse with conference room and is located five miles from downtown Lexington.
 

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