The U.S. Tennis Association is calling tennis the new “pick up” game, and, for more than 60 students attending Alexander II Elementary’s afterschool program, they’d have to agree.
The Alexander II students get tennis instruction twice a week as part of the program.
It all started with an idea. The idea grew into a partnership, which grew into a tennis program.
Macon-Bibb County tennis manager Carl Hodge wanted to not just expose kids to tennis; he wanted them to receive instruction on real tennis courts.
The where and how were easy. College Street is the only thing separating Alexander II from Tattnall Square Tennis Center. Why not get the kids to walk over and give them instruction on real courts?
Hodge’s idea didn’t stop there. Why not give the kids tennis lessons twice a week, not for an eight-week session either, but for the entire year?
Armed with his plan, some possible grant money and an endless well of passion for the game, he approached Mary Parrish, the director of afterschool programs for Bibb County Public Schools.
“I wasn’t familiar with how tennis is taught,” Parrish said. “At first I thought, how will (5-year-olds) get the ball over the net?’ But Carl explained how he’d teach all grade levels.”
Youth tennis instruction has gone through a major overhaul during the past few years. Now, kids learn on smaller-sized courts, hold lighter, shorter racquets, hit lower-bouncing balls and utilize modified scoring.
Parrish, who has 16 years of classroom experience, said Hodge understands the importance of age-appropriate teaching.
“This is fantastic,” Parrish said of Hodge’s lesson plans. “The kids will be learning on their own level.”
Said Hodge, “The low-compression balls move slower and bounce lower. Using them on shorter courts means kids have time to set up for their next shot.”
For kids, the new equipment translates into excitement.
“It’s fun to hit the ball over the net,” said Lathan Howard, a 6-year old Alexander II afterschool participant. “I love to hit the ball.”
Another participant, Lucas Spears, said, “I love playing. You get a lot of exercise.”
There are plans to expand the program.
“In the very near future, the children will be able to play on newly built tennis courts scaled down to their size,” Hodge said. “Tattnall Tennis Center will get a new face-lift along with brand new tennis courts, fencing and lighting.”
In addition, Hodge said there will be opportunities for kids to play for free at the center.