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Winning West Coast Swing for Youth Registration in Redding

April 13, 2010 06:52 PM

By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

Jo Campbell noticed the change right away, from the instant her nine-year-old son swung the racquet.

"He could stay with volleys - have rallies where he hit the ball 40 times in a point," said Campbell, Tennis Coordinator for the Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness Club in Redding, Calif.

Campbell, of course, was speaking about QuickStart Tennis and the foam ball frenzy that has inspired one of Northern California's brightest Youth Registration events. Sun Oaks introduced the play format for kids over the winter, and is just beginning to experiment on the outer courts.

"We've actually arranged our first foam-ball tournament in June," said Campbell. "(QuickStart) is great because our younger Junior Team Tennis players can be taught and trained correctly, avoiding some of the bad habits of trying to learn on full-sized courts. Kids can actually play the net this way, for instance."

"Its hard for a young person to unlearn poor mechanics as they try to get comfortable playing," she added. "Seeing our foam ball kids have 15, 20 ball rallies is very, very encouraging for all involved." 

The tables were out at the club for four separate afternoons, as parents signed their children up on the weekends of Feb. 27 & 28 and March 5 & 6. To entertain and educate the JTT signees, Sun Oaks held a junior high/middle school preseason tournament on the first weekend, followed by a high school boys' tournament the next. Sandwiched between was a "Foam Ball Jamboree" for players under 10 years old - with round-robin play and seven-point tiebreak matches - and free clinics with club pros.

Afterwards, the 89 kids who attended were treated to a barbecue lunch or pizza, and entered to win prizes & certificates, along with awards for sportsmanship.

"Parents were excited that we could have their kids playing in matches right away and that their kids could play tennis on a team if they wanted," said Campbell.

Nestled not too far from the California/Oregon border, Redding is one of the state's rapidly-growing tennis centers, with Sun Oaks at the heart of it all. Once a small mining town and traveling outpost for trappers, the city has grown in population from 16,000-plus in 1970 to over 108,000 present-day residents. Since 2003, Sun Oaks has also played host to the $25,000 USTA Women's Challenger of Redding, one of the stops on the USTA Pro Circuit.

As the population grows, the ten courts of Sun Oaks too fill with kids eager to play. Around 50 will take part in spring programs and 60 or so will serve and volley in the summer. 

"The hardest part was just getting the word out there to everyone," said Campbell. "There was a lot of hustle involved, and I had a great team of volunteers helping me out. I told them 'we can't just flier and expect a sea of people,' so we set to work: making phone calls, promoting on the web, and telling everyone we know."

A mother of two, Campbell gave up the game in her teens and didn't come back for 23 years, when a friend pestered her to come out to a local clinic.

"A girlfriend of mine wanted the company, but I told her that my playing days were 'a long time ago, in a land far, far away,'" said Campbell, with a laugh. "But she kept after me, knowing that I had played as a kid and for two seasons in high school. I kept saying 'no,' and that she'd have fun even without me; yet, she didn't let up. Finally, I agreed to go to just one session - and I've been back for three-and-a-half years."

"Its been a dream, being involved day in and day out - I can't believe people pay me to do this," she added. 

Introduced once more to a life's calling, Campbell will continue to oversee the growth of youth tennis in the tiny metropolis and arrange leagues and registration drives - and feel comfort knowing her son is getting the most out of the game, like her.



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