By Jim Sullivan
---- — The Amesbury High tennis team is on a mission to make the sport a major draw in Carriage Town by hosting a first of its kind: a United States Tennis Association under-10 youth program.
“The idea was that we were going to make ourselves known and spread the enjoyment of tennis in Amesbury,” says Indians girls tennis coach Brett Manoloff. “We’re walking the talk instead of just saying we’re going to do this or that. We’re doing it.”
The program meets at the Amesbury Elementary School gym Tuesday afternoons and finds five of Manoloff’s varsity players, Olivia King, Megan Chines, Madison Padgett, Stephanie Abraham and Melina Mavroforos teaching the fundamentals of tennis to four girls and seven boys from the third and fourth grades.
“Our major goal here is to offer the kids the opportunity to do something different,” says Manoloff. “To do a different sport, and at the same time, to learn the basic skills that may inspire them to continue.”
Manoloff is no stranger to the inspiration game, whether it’s teaching physics at AHS or running the “Summer Moms” summer tennis program, which is where the youth program actually got its start.
The coach would not take any money for conducting the summer program and one of the five moms, Ann Connolly-King, wanted to give a little something back in return. The mothers collected $5 a session from each other with the plan to put it back into the tennis program. The youth program provided Connolly-Kind with the perfect opportunity.
She worked with the PTA, then went to the USTA website and found the guidelines. Then she and her fellow moms made the USTA recommended nets, adorned them with flags from The Party Store and got things going.
“We were able to sort of donate the equipment as a start-up,” says Connolly-King. “So they didn’t have to come up with the money at all. We did the flags and everything. To see it was really meaningful. To see the kids playing and really enjoying themselves, that felt good for the moms to give back.”
“The goal is for them to have some fun,” Manoloff says of the participants. “But really what it is about is the opportunity for the kids to explore a new sport that hopefully they’ll really enjoy and play for the rest of their lives.”
Manoloff says most of the participants are just starting out, but are starting to love it.
“He’s really great with the kids,” Connolly-King says of Manoloff. “He does a phenomenal job. He believes the way to engage kids in playing tennis is to make it fun for them. So when you go in there, it’s not a very rigid, skills-driven afternoon for them. They do games with beanies, and it was fun for me watching the kids have such a good time.”
“The kids love rallying,” says Manoloff. “Hitting the ball over the net to each other, or as they say, ‘Actually playing tennis.’ It is great. So, we’ve been working on that a lot. This week, we’re going to try to institute the concept of serving. We’ll see how that goes. But the kids are really great, and the girls do a great job of working with them.”
The coach and his players hope to start another round during the winter, but the real opportunity for them is to get the word out about Amesbury tennis.
“In the summer time, we’re really lucky in Amesbury that we have the courts at the high school,” says Connolly-King. “There’s really no cost, just picking up a racquet and a can of balls to be able to go out with your family and really have a lot of fun playing.”
“When you have four beautiful courts at the high school and three beautiful courts at the middle school, it makes sense to at least to make people aware of the fact that tennis is strong in Amesbury,” echoes Manoloff.