Kids Team Tennis program thriving  in Elizabethton

By Matt Hill

   Over the last five years, children at a local elementary school have learned how to play and enjoy the game of tennis.
   Westside Elementary School in Elizabethton has been participating in the USA Kids Team Tennis program, which introduces young kids to the game of tennis.
   Westside received a grant from the Tennessee Tennis association five years ago to promote tennis to school children. Sixty students started in the program, and it has grown ever since.
   The program now has 130 students enrolled. For a fee of $37, the child receives a membership to the United States Tennis Association, a tennis racket, a USA team tennis shirt, two monthly tennis magazines and a participation trophy.
   When the idea was introduced to Westside physical education teacher Joyce Sweeney, she didn't hesitate to apply for the grant.
   "It's a great sport to learn," Sweeney said. "We play in the spring and in the fall. The lower grades stay at the school, while grades two through five go to the high school."
   Kindergarten and first graders start out playing in the gymnasium, as Sweeney uses games and activities to get the kids introduced to tennis.
   "We use mini-nets for the kindergarten and first grade students," Sweeney said. "Those can be used in the gymnasium."
   The growth of the program has coincided with new and better facilities. Elizabethton High School built new tennis courts in 1999, and Westside has also refurbished its one court.
   "We've come a long way," Sweeney said. "We get on the bus, ride down to the high school, and have a good time."
   As for the program itself, different grades do different things.
   "We lead the Kindergarten and first grades in games," Sweeney said. "We throw the ball to the second and third graders. Then the fourth and fifth graders start serving the ball."
   The format is set up to where each child gets to play, and that no one is left out.
   "There are six people on a team," Sweeney said. "The first two players on each team play two points, then the next two rotate in."
   Parents help out as coaches, which brings people together for a good time and to have some outstanding fellowship.
   "A lot of parents have helped out," Sweeney said. "The interest has been great."
   For children that can't afford the program, a scholarship is given out.
   Sweeney said that they try to make the program as affordable as possible.
   "We have people donate money," Sweeney said. "We have a fundraiser with "Proffitt's" each year to help raise money for the program."
   In conjunction with the program, the Cartoon Network's Smash Tennis Program featuring Scooby Doo made an appearance at Elizabethton High School last year.
   "They had big blow-up mini-courts set up," Sweeney said. "They go to the U.S. Open, and travel all over the U.S. We were really blessed to have them come to Elizabethton."
   Sweeney says she has really seen some major improvement in the kids over the years. Overall, she is very happy with the direction the program is heading in.
   "We just had our end of the year tournament," Sweeney said. "They've really improved, and I'm just really pleased."
   Sweeney is hoping that this program will lead to continued success for the EHS tennis teams. The boys team tied for the conference title this season, while the girls squad advanced all the way to the state tournament.
   "Danny O'Quinn has done an outstanding job," Sweeney said. "The kids did a wonderful job. It's exciting to see our kids doing so well."
   Sweeney wants her kids to be competitive, but most of all, she wants them to enjoy the game of tennis.
   "It's an exciting sport," Sweeney said. "You can be competitive, but still enjoy what you're doing.
   "We may not play like McEnroe's, but we still have a good time."