Tennis starts with “love,” and it should indeed, feels Kristen Turner Shepard. Along with Stephanie Davidsmeyer Alexander and Harmon Deal, Shepard is part of the Jacksonville Area Tennis Foundation (JATF). The non-profit organization was created by individuals interested in promoting tennis. For the past several years, JATF has coordinated with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to create “Quick Start” clinics for youngsters and adults. The idea is to keep tennis growing. The JATF is building on the idea of the Quick Start program by offering “Family Tennis Play Day” events at the Illinois College tennis courts, which are for youth of all ages (with or without tennis experience) and the parents, guardians, or adults who want to play with them. Loaner racquets are even available from the JATF for those that do not have them.
The idea is simple: have fun building your tennis skills and playing the sport while you build interaction time with family and friends. “The kids come, but bring the grownups to play, too. It keeps the sport growing,” says Shepard. The first “Family Tennis Play Day” event took place on Saturday, June 21, and it was, if you’ll excuse me, “downright smashing.” Two more events followed the next week and aimed to pique the interest of youth and adults alike in tennis. Shepard adds that “youth tennis isn’t going to grow unless the kids get their parents involved. We try to keep the sport alive, attract new interest and improve the abilities or reactivate the interest of people that used to play.” Several of the parents would joke that they played years ago, maybe even in high school mentioned Shepard, “but tennis is something you don’t forget how to do.”
The family events were free and open to the public. They were also attended by Shepard’s aunt, Paula Scheb, a Master Tennis Professional in Florida that came to offer her skills and time for a sport she loves so much. Scheb volunteered to teach the three free clinics along with a group of area tennis lovers who contributed their own talents. Scheb and the group led games and contests and handed out tennis swag to make it a fun ‘party at the net’ for the kids and parents.
Shepard, Scheb, and the JATF are trying to prove that tennis has not met its match; it can be a fun, family event and it can grow to popularity again. To further increase its growth, there is now an Inaugural Turner Tennis Club, which was started at Turner Junior High this past spring. Brett Burchard, of the Turner music department, spearheaded the club with the idea that it would be something that he and his junior high-aged son could do together. It is another free activity for kids. The club practiced four times a week, maintaining a “come when you can” policy for kids, said Shepard, who also teaches at Turner Junior High. The kids could earn points for their attendance and based on each kid’s point total, he or she could collect prizes, such as tennis shirts, lanyards, medals and other fun tennis gear. The club is an additional step to bringing tennis back to demand, hoping that the playing with the Turner Tennis Club would transition to an interest in the Jacksonville High School tennis team. To start or continue your interest in tennis, or to get you and your child involved, check out www.midwestteamtennis.com to find opportunities. To be active locally, contact the Jacksonville Area Tennis Foundation. Above all, Shepard and the JATF encourage you to go out and play!