BY MIKAYLA BARONDEAU
As early as 8:15 a.m., the sound of tennis balls can be heard at the Weaver Lake Beach and Park tennis courts as preparations are made for youth tennis lessons.
Jenna Rice, 23, of Maple Grove, is a coach for the Maple Grove Parks and Recreation. For the last two weeks, she has coached four 45-minute sessions for youth ages 4-12 with the help of Colleen McCullough, Becca Kopacek, and Brittany Hahn.
Rice started playing tennis in sixth grade after her younger brother began taking classes through Parks and Recreation. She played varsity tennis at Maple Grove Senior High and was undefeated in doubles play her freshman year.
Since then Rice has seen tennis grow in popularity. She has had to turn several people seeking private lessons away.
"People just love it. It’s a sport that’s really picking up," said Rice.
Lauren Hetland, mother of two, played tennis for Wayzata High School and several years at UW Stout. She said she finds there are more opportunities for younger kids to get out and play than when she was growing up. Her 5-year-old son, Derek, is in his first year of lessons. Her 7-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, has participated in classes several years.
Dan Masloski, the parks facilities manager for the city of Champlin, said tennis has been growing in the area for the last 15 years. He said an increase in youth programming and the fact that tennis is a lifelong sport are the main factors for its growth.
"Parents are now getting their kids involved," said Masloski. He also said that he sees many younger brothers and sisters following in their older siblings’ footsteps.
Champlin has also received grants to improve tennis facilities through the United States Tennis Association (USTA) according to Masloski.
Tennis is also gaining popularity at Champlin High School. The program has been running about 20 years. In recent years, the girls’ numbers have increased from 40 to 60. Head girls tennis coach Luke Shaw believes that number will reach 70 in the upcoming season. He attributes this to the team’s no-cut policy.
"There are other sports and activities that don’t cut either, but I think the fact that we are willing to take anyone, and that they all will have the opportunity to play, not sit the bench and watch, may be different than some sports," said Shaw.
In addition, the coaching staff encourages students who aren’t involved in other sports to try tennis.
The increase in numbers has created an increase in talent. According to Shaw, the team finished 3-13 several years ago with a young team. This year, the squad improved to 13-6, advancing to the section semifinals. He said he expects another good year as many players from that team will return this season.
The program gets a great deal of family support. Shaw says the team has many brothers and sisters on the team and that he enjoys seeing younger siblings who watch their older brothers and sisters, then join the team a few years later. In addition, the team gets great support from parents, both those who have and haven’t played.
Check out these area tennis opportunities in the Osseo/Maple Grove area:
Maple Grove Days Tennis Tournament: Divisions include boys singles 14 and under, girls singles 14 and under, boys singles 18 and under, girls singles 18 and under, boys doubles 18 and under, girls doubles 18 and under, mens open 4.5 rating and below, mens open 3.5 rating and below, and mixed doubles. Online registration cost is $18 per person per event and closes July 5 or when draw is full. Mailed registration cost is $15 per person per event and must be received by July 9. Forms are available at freewebs.com/maplegrovetennis and northern.usta.com.
Tennis Lessons: For ages 5-13, classes run weekly Mondays through Thursdays with Fridays available as rain make up days. The class locations and times vary according to age. More information is available at ci.maple-grove.mn.us.