PARKERSBURG - Passing through the gate on her way to the tennis courts at City Park, Kiki Ghodsi said confidently, "I can do tennis."
That was a popular sentiment shared by the 72 youngsters in grades 1-6 participating in the first installment of the Wood County Youth Team Tennis program on Wednesday evening.
The program lasts eight weeks, culminating in a "Tennis in the Park" carnival on Aug. 3. The hour-long sessions utilize modified courts, rackets and balls to make learning the sport an enjoyable experience.
Lily Shutler of the Baseliners concentrates on keeping the ball on her racket during a game of 'Red Light, Green Light' where players had to keep the ball on their rackets or start over when it fell off. (Photos by Jeff Baughan)
"From a tennis program, this is where you have to start - you have to get kids involved," Mid-Ohio Valley Tennis Association president Jeff D'Costa said. "Our organization here at MOVTA recognized that tennis has been kind of a diminishing sport in the area, and we realized we have to go back to the grassroots and start developing tennis at this age group."
Participants were divided into groups of six. Group names ranged from Top Spinners and Racqueteers to Court Crew and Baseliners. Neal and Lori Sauers of Parkersburg had two children taking lessons- 8-year-old Maggie in the Alley Cats and 10-year-old Logan in Deuces.
"We play as a family, and that's why we wanted to get our kids involved," Lori Sauers said. "It's something they can always take with them."
With the assistance of Williamstown coach Jay Carter and Ritchie County coach Jim Andrews, coordinating Wednesday's lessons was Jawn Smith. A total of 24 student-coaches also volunteered their services. Earlier this month, an instructor representing the United States Tennis Association trained the staff.
"During that two-hour seminar, it was really entertaining to see them out there," D'Costa said. "They were really engaging the kids with the practical skills they taught."
The goal by the end of the eight-week session is that these future tennis players can learn how to keep the ball in play and perhaps rally back and forth.
"From the standpoint of keeping their attention span for the age groups, I thought they did a wonderful job today," MOVTA vice president Kim Pope-Shulman said. "It taught them a lot of hand-eye coordination, and that's the key."