Young athletes give tennis another whack

For the past few years, tennis in the Yukon has been stuck behind the fuzzy yellow ball. Players moving to Whitehorse found the city to be a bit of…

For the past few years, tennis in the Yukon has been stuck behind the fuzzy yellow ball.

Players moving to Whitehorse found the city to be a bit of a tennis dead zone.

Stacy Lewis, president of Tennis Yukon, went so far as to paint a court on the street in front of her Riverdale home to host a doubles tournament with friends and neighbours.

It wasn’t always the case for the sport of kings in the territory.

“About 10 years ago, Theresa and Rachel Drummond were real active tennis players, and tennis had a bit more of a profile,” said Lewis. “They both went on to US colleges on tennis scholarships — tennis was more dynamic at the time.”

Lewis said that Jerry Wald was very active at the time as well, and the courts were put in at Mount McIntyre during that period.

“Things trailed off after the Drummond girls went to college,” she said. “Then you get into the wrong kind of cycle, which is: people come to town, they can’t figure out who to contact about tennis, they can’t see any tennis activity going on, they just think, ‘Oh, now I live in Whitehorse, I’m not going to be playing tennis anymore.’”

Well, that cycle seems to be finished.

Tennis Yukon is fully functional, thanks to the efforts of Lewis and coaches Kyle Marchuk and Leighann Chalykoff.

The three racqueteers have been offering lessons at Yukon College since October, and the response has been overwhelming.

“It’s amazing, we’re over capacity for our Sunday lessons right now,” said Chalykoff, who played competitively as a junior in New Brunswick.

“Every week we have another kid coming to the door; I love it,” added Lewis. “It’s a sport for life, so you know you’re giving them something that will last.”

In winter, tennis is up against other racquet sports, like squash and badminton.

But Tennis Yukon is continuing to host events like last weekend’s 40 Below Tournament to get people exited about tennis and ready for the outdoor court season.

Without dedicated indoor facilities, the sport has had to adapt.

Three-quarter compression balls have less bounce, and allow players to still hit the ball with force on a super-fast gym floor.

“I just got back from the drop-in tennis at the flexi-hall, and that floor is so slippery… it’s not great for tennis,” said Lewis on Monday. “But with the three-quarter compression balls, it slows it down a little, and you can actually hit, and get some points in.”

Lewis uses a version of the game called progressive tennis to teach youngsters the basics; the nets are smaller, and the ball is larger and made of bouncy sponge.

“Different compression balls and progressive tennis are the best thing that happened to us,” said Lewis. “You can actually play in the gym.”

Tennis Yukon’s organizers have big plans for the upcoming outdoor season. They are bringing a level 2 coach up from BC for a two-week blitz of instructor training and junior camps in June.

They plan to send a group of young players to a camp in Yellowknife, and tournaments against Juneau and Anchorage are in the works as well.

With some funding from Tennis Canada, the three coaches are hoping to have some young players ready to hit the courts next summer for the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island.

“We’re very keen about that,” said Lewis of the Canada Games team.

“It’s not a huge group, but it’s a good little core — they may be a year younger (than the competition), but that’s the reality — the kids in the 18-and-under are going to be 18, and they’re coming out of very high-level athlete development programs in Ontario, BC and Quebec.”

Marchuk, who has played competitively since the age of six, and went to the national championships for team Ontario, said it will be a tough go for these young players to represent Yukon on the courts.

“It’s not one of those sports that you can pick up right away and be good at,” he said. “But we’ve seen a lot of progress from the juniors; we’re really impressed with how seriously some of the kids are taking this.”

In the meantime, lessons and drop-in programs are happening at both Yukon College and the Canada Games Centre, and Tennis Yukon will be holding it’s annual general meeting on April 15th, interested players are welcome to come out and share in the planning of the upcoming season.

“Things are happening now, the ball’s really rolling, we just tied it together — and the next thing you know, we’re a lot bigger than we thought we’d be,” said Marchuk.

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