Popular Crook County Park & Recreation program teaches tennis skills

The excited voices of racquet wielding youth echo across the playing area as the Crook County Park & Recreation summer tennis program kicks into high gear.

“It’s going pretty great,” said Elsa Harris, one of the instructors for the program and a star player at Crook County High School. “The kids are enthusiastic and I’m having a lot of fun.”

The program, which normally has two summer sessions, has been cut back to one camp this year due to the construction of new tennis courts at Crook County High School.Photo Credit: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Hoyt Kudlac hits a beach ball during the annual Crook County Parks & Recreation District ABC Tennis program at Crook County High School. The program usually has two summer sessions. However, due to the construction of new tennis courts at the high school this year's progarm has just one session which wraps up next week.

“The turnout is good for having just a short program,” said Lloyd Rodgers, Parks & Rec tennis director and the head girls coach at Crook County High School. “We are happy with the kids and their development.”

The tennis camp is divided into three groups — ABC Tennis, USA Jr. Team Training Tennis, and USA JR. Tournament Training Tennis.

The ABC group works to learn the basics with A standing for Attention, B for bear hug your racquet when you are standing in line, and C for learning racquet control. As youth advance through the program they are placed in the second program, which focuses on basic skills and development. Both programs include games and drills that are designed to improve skills while making the game fun.

For example Wednesday morning campers competed in a relay race where they took turns hitting a beach ball from the baseline to the net and back. The competition was fierce as a boys team raced a girls team with the final outcome neck and neck.

Other games include contests to see who can keep a balloon in the air the longest using only a racquet, or awards for hitting a target on the other side of the net.

“I think I know what I am doing now,” Harris said. “I’ve taught it for quite a while now so it’s becoming more routine. It’s really fun seeing all the kids out here and it helped me get to where I am now.”

Harris is currently ranked fourth in the state of Oregon in her age group, and 11th in the Northwest.

Although not everyone who goes through the camp is going to be a dominating tournament player, the program is designed to let athletes develop at their own pace as well as provide the opportunity to play tennis at a high level.

Developing tournament level players is exactly what the third portion of the program is intended to accomplish, concentrating on skills, strategies, and footwork for tournament play.

“I love helping all these kids and seeing them grow,” Harris said. “It’s fun to see all the development. Everybody needs to have fun, but I hope that there are some girls that stick to it because I know that there are some really good players out here. It’s where I came from.”

According to both Rodgers and Harris, the late start for the summer tennis program was worth the wait. The new tennis courts are now useable and the finishing touches were expected to be added the end of last week.Photo Credit: LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Mckinley Sloper works on her backhand during the Crook County Parks and Recreation tennis camp. The annual camp runs through next week.

“The new courts make it so much nicer,” Rodgers said. “The cracks were a little bit of a safety hazard and now they are completely safe and nice to play on and we have a beautiful facility.”

“I wish it had happened sooner,” Harris added. “But it’s in time for my senior year, so that’s great.”

In addition to tennis one of the major changes with the new courts is that there will now be lines for pickleball on two of the courts.

Pickleball is played with large wooden paddles that resemble ping pong paddles only larger with round holes drilled into them. The balls are approximately softball sized whiffle balls. Consequently the game is quick, but the balls do not travel as fast or as far as tennis.

Rodgers noted that the Parks & Rec District is planning to offer pickleball lessons in the fall.

In addition, in the past the high school tennis courts have been locked up and unavailable to the public.

Final plans are still being developed in order to protect the courts from vandalism, but in the near future interested players in the community are going to be able to sign up through the school district to use the courts for both tennis and pickleball.

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