Archive for Friday, May 30, 2008

Youth league grows

Local pro hopes to see tennis take off

May 30, 2008


Tennis social on tap Sunday

Kirsty Elliott will hold a tennis social from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Free State High's courts for those interested in the Lawrence Tennis Association's junior leagues.

Visitors to the social - youths and parents alike - are encouraged to bring racquets.

Kirsty Elliott has an idyllic vision of how her fledgling junior tennis league will run.

In her grand vision, youngsters - beginners and veterans alike - would flock to the courts for love of the game. They'd play year-around as long as they could before bumping up against junior high and high school participation limits. The local tennis scene would flourish.

"My goal is to have kids riding their bicycles to play their matches," said Elliott, the Lawrence Tennis Association's junior tennis league director. "Parents wouldn't have to transport them. That's my goal."

Nobody can accuse Elliott of aiming too low.

Truth be told, Elliott doesn't much care how they get there. Just that they come.

"I went and watched some junior high teams play," she said. "I was amazed at how wonderfully they were competing, how wonderfully they were interacting. There were no bad line calls. Sportsmanship was above board. I thought, 'Look at the tremendous tennis kids we have here in Lawrence.'

"There were 37 players on the West Junior High team - the boys teams. I thought, 'For goodness sakes, why are we traveling all the way to Kansas City to compete when we could have our own league right here in Lawrence?'"

Following guidelines provided by the United States Tennis Association, Elliott started a small junior league last summer for youths ages 7-18.

She's aiming for bigger and better this year.

So far, 40 youngsters have signed up for the league, which will run June 10-July 15, with most matches being played at Free State High and other sites throughout the city. Cost is $30.

The bulk of those signed up are in the 18-under and 14-under age groups.

"I wanted to have a 10-and-under QuickStart program," Elliott said of a reduced-court game for the youngest division. "I wanted a 12-and-under program. But that's not coming to pass. I'll have to drop the 10s and 12s and keep working to spread the word."

Elliott plans to have four teams each in the 14-under and 18-under divisions. Following USTA guidelines, each team of six players - three boys, three girls - would play a boys singles, a girls singles, a boys doubles, a girls doubles and a mixed doubles match against the other teams in the league.

If the league fields four teams, each team would play every other twice, making for a six-match season.

Elliott sees her junior league as a bridge between the world of beginner, recreational tennis and the start of competitive tennis.

"I want to get kids ready for playing junior high tennis and high school tennis," she said. "Basically, I'm trying to reach out from the most inexperienced to somewhat experienced. There are a lot of players who are teetering on the edge of playing tournaments. I'm wanting this to be a feeder program for possible tournament players, but also be for kids wanting to be involved in the sport in junior high or be involved in the sport at high school. I want to help them gain some playing experience before junior high.

"I have kids who are total beginners, kids who say, 'Gosh, I just love tennis.' I have kids who have taken lessons and say, 'I'd like to test out my skills.' It's varying levels."

A tennis pro, former high school coach (at Seabury Academy) and mother of two, Elliott has seen the league through several pairs of eyes.

"Why am I doing this? A mother asked me that," she said. "Because I just love tennis. When I was a kid, I just loved to compete. I loved to test my skills. But I know my parents hated to travel. I was so gung-ho, but my parents would say, 'It's too far to go here or to go there to play.' I really wanted to play tennis. I would have liked for somebody to do this for me. Maybe I am crazy, but I have two kids - a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. I'd like them to have an opportunity to play in a league."


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