Learning experience

Community Hospital Team Tennis Tournament gives young players a chance to improve

Benni St. Peter of the Everlasting Lobstoppers returns a shot Friday during the Community Hospital Team Tennis Tournament at the Elliott Tennis Center. St. Peter’s team in the Federer Division lost to the Racqueteers 53-45 during the first day of the tournament.

Micah Hanly of the Racqueteers returns a shot Friday during his match at the Community Hospital Team Tennis Tournament at the Elliott Tennis Center. Hanly won his singles match 8-0 and his team beat the Everlasting Lobstoppers 53-45 in the Federer division.

Benni St. Peter has spent a lot of time playing tennis with his family. Now, he’s seeing a noticeable difference in the way he plays.

“It feels good to know I’m getting better,” the 11-year-old said. “I think it’s because I’m learning so much and now I can put it all into action. It helps me win all of my games.”

Those differences were on display Friday during the sixth-annual Community Hospital Junior Team Tennis Tournament at the Elliott Tennis Center. St. Peter was one of 12 players competing in the Federer division, which is geared toward beginner and middle-school level players.

The Federer division is a few steps up from the Green Dot League, which focuses on young players who have never picked up a tennis racket and helps prepare them for the tournament atmosphere. An occasional first-time player usually gets into the tournament field, but co-tournament organizer Ron Elliott said there’s a consolidated effort to make everyone in the tournament’s lowest level feel like equals.

“We very often mix up the doubles teams so that the lower-level kids feel more comfortable playing with kids who are at an upper level,” Elliott said. “We don’t want anyone to be overwhelmed. If they’re overwhelmed they’re not going to come back.

“It’s not so much about tasting victory as it is about tasting success, knowing they had a good time out there, got a few points, won a few games and got better.”

Players at the tournament typically start in the Green Dot League for beginners ages 8 to 10. Most then move to the team tennis league each summer, which Elliott says prepares them for the annual team tennis tournament.

The Federer division is the lowest of three levels that come from the league, which also features the Djokovic (intermediate) and Nadal (advanced) divisions. This year’s tournament field is 48 players and includes two six-person Federer teams: the Everlasting Lobstoppers and Racqueteers. Team members get to name the teams.

The family friendly focus carries over into the tournament’s philosophy on inclusiveness and its goal of setting a foundation of honesty and etiquette. Many first-time players are fighting the nerves of playing in a tournament for the first time while trying to call balls in or out and keep score. As a precaution, Elliott and other tournament organizers oversee matches to ensure things go smoothly.

More often than not during Friday morning’s matches, he’d compliment kids on their shot selection or effort, with effort and noticeable progress taking precedence over success. He admits there are times he’s had to be more of an enforcer than cheerleader.

“If we start seeing that kids are making some bad calls, that’s when I step in,” Elliott said. “But we always tell the kids not to question a call if you don’t know the result yourself. And sometimes it happens when ... a kid will wish a ball out and have their finger up in the air before it hits the ground. That’s when we correct them.”

Elliott the enforcer wasn’t necessary for kids in the Federer division on Friday. St. Peter and his doubles partner and older brother, Corban, had near-permanent smiles during their 6-3 victory over Bailee Raven and Natalie Hanks.

The doubles win was a redemption of sorts for the brothers, who each lost a singles match earlier in the day.

In the team competition, the Racqueteers won the match 53-45, with a second matchup between the teams scheduled for this morning.

Like the St. Peter brothers, 13-year-old Micah Hanly had some family ties to tennis even though he didn’t start playing until earlier this month. His dad, Eric, played high school tennis in Laramie, Wyoming. And the limited practice and pointers he’s gotten so far have worked: He won his match at No. 4 singles 8-0.

He might have to put developing his newfound tennis skills on hold for a little while, though. Next month, he’ll head to Mexico to help build houses as part of a missionary trip he said could last three months or longer.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do about that,” he said with a smile. “Maybe I’ll just take my racket with me and hit a ball against a wall or something.”


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