Five years ago, in its first year of existence, the South-Western Youth Team Tennis program had 14 participants.
Dan Witteman, a longtime high school tennis coach in the South-Western City School District, helped form the summer program for boys and girls in grades 1-6. He said he never anticipated it would develop into what it is today.
According to James VanDyne, who coordinates the program with Witteman, more than 200 children showed interest in participating this summer, but the program set the maximum number of participants at 120 because of a limited number of volunteer coaches and courts.
"It's grown every year," said Witteman, who completed his 43th season as the boys coach at Westland in the spring and will be entering his 29th season as the girls coach at Grove City this fall. "The word gets out that we're doing this and it fills up. The first year, I went to every (elementary) school (in the district) and handed out fliers and we didn't get that many. It's taken off. This is great. This is one of the best things that I can do. I'm giving something to the sport that I love."
This summer, the program consisted of six Tuesday sessions at Franklin Heights, with the final one being held July 8. The sessions for grades 1-3 consisted of 42 participants and the sessions for grades 4-6 had 78.
According to Witteman and VanDyne, the program had around 30 volunteer coaches, including current and graduated players from Central Crossing, Grove City and Westland, this summer. In addition, a few parents contributed to the program as volunteers.
"I like to do this. It's good for the kids," said Westland senior Grant Bare, who has been a part of the Cougars' program for three years. "They really get to learn the game because I couldn't hit balls like that when I was a freshman."
According to Witteman and VanDyne, the program focuses on the basics of the sport, including forehand, backhand, volleying and serving, and that awards are presented when skills are achieved.
The tennis programs at Central Crossing, Franklin Heights, Grove City and Westland, the Westland Athletic Boosters, the Greater Columbus Tennis Association and Midwest Youth Team Tennis, in conjunction with the United States Tennis Association, sponsor the youth program.
Witteman said the GCTA provided the program with a grant to help defray its costs and that the USTA provided each participant with a team shirt, an age-appropriate racquet, a ball and a one-year USTA Junior membership.
"We don't have a junior high program in the (school) district, so a lot of our kids, when they come to Dan in high school, the first time they have played tennis is as a freshman," said VanDyne, who teaches chemistry at Westland. "Now he's getting kids that have started with us ... so when they reach high school, they have some experience. A lot of these kids are repeats."
The high school programs in the school district are experiencing a revitalization, as the courts at Central Crossing, Grove City and Westland are being resurfaced this summer and Franklin Heights soon will have new courts as part of the construction of a new building. The project broke ground last fall.
"I feel like I've died and gone to heaven with these tennis courts," Witteman said. "We can start to maybe have tournaments over there (Westland and Grove City) again. At one time at Westland and Grove City, we had district tournaments there. We're going to have a good facility."