“CAMPUS KIDS’ DAY IS A BLAST…NO KIDDING!”

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“CAMPUS KIDS’ DAY IS A BLAST…NO KIDDING!”

By Dunja Antunovic, DePaul Graduate Assistant Coach
2010 ITA/USTWA Writing Contest Winner

Two girls were approaching me with their mom. One was holding a pink racket in her right hand and had a smile on her face, while the other one, walking a bit slower than her older sister, visibly shy stayed closer to her mother. Claire and Sophie were the first attendees of our first ever USTA Campus Kids’ Day.

They approached the poster board and carefully studied the bios of our players, though the pictures of the action shots and team activities undoubtedly looked more interesting than the win-loss records and the demographic information.

A few minutes later Claire’s friend from her group tennis lesson joined with her sister and soon enough we had a lively group of girls waiting for the activities to start.

“What are we doing?” Some of them asked impatiently. “We will have pizza first.” As I responded, their faces lightened up and their eyes opened wider. But that’s not what they looked forward to the most. They couldn’t wait to finally get on the tennis court.

While were indulging in the pizza, I asked them about their experience with tennis.

“Have you played before?” Some of them took lessons, some of them didn’t.

“Do you watch tennis on TV?” Most of them did.

“Have you ever seen a live tennis match?” No, nobody has. “I only watched mom and dad play but they aren’t very good,” one girl said.

Finally, it was time to walk to the court. Our club does not have a seating area, so we set up mats and benches on one of the courts by the No. 1 doubles match so the kids and the parents can be close to the action.

In all blue with the Baby Demon logo on their shirts, the kids obediently sat down on the benches and watched the end of our team’s warm-up. When the warm-up was over, we introduced our team and the Butler team and invited them to our huddle. We never had such a large pile of hands and that many voices coming together to shout 1-2-3 Go DePaul!

As our top doubles team of Katarina Milinkovic and Gia McKnight walked on the court to start their match, the enthusiastic audience took their positions and prepared for cheering.

We had previously been rehearsing the “Let’s go Demons, let’s go” cheer, though it was met with some resistance.

“Daddy, what is a Demon,” the 7-year-old Lani asked. When your mascot is a Demon, you get that question a lot.

“I will explain to you later” her father, Ernesto, responded.

But Lani wasn’t satisfied with the answer so she turned to me. “I thought demons were evil,” she said. Well, Lani, we are the nice kind.

When Katarina and Gia stood up from their seats to start the match, it was our responsibility to get them energized. I have to say, as the match progressed, our young friends got better and better at cheering. Their voices and claps filled the air when Katarina and Gia won their last point, smiled and waved to their little fans.

Although the match was over, the excitement was just about to start. They got to play, but first we had to go through a warm-up. The kids did their high-knees, their shuffles and their lunges with more intensity than I usually see from my team.

After the somewhat short, yet dynamic activities on the court, the kids dropped their rackets off and ran to the water fountain. They looked tired, but content.

"It was fun to watch girls play tennis and I learned a lot from watching them play,” Claire, a fourth-grader, said. “I enjoyed working on tennis skills with the players. I learned some good techniques for hitting forehands and backhands."

For the conclusion of the day, we did a raffle in which every participant received a prize. We had a small group for our first event of this nature, but the enthusiasm we saw on the kids’ faces and the appreciative feedback we received from the parents ensured us that the day was a success.

“The event was a very positive experience for Lani,” Ernesto Fierro said. “She had the opportunity to sit on the court and cheer for her new friends and ‘teachers’ when the played a doubles game. I can tell that Lani is more interested in playing tennis because she cannot stop telling her cousins and class mates about the Campus Kids Day event.”

We put this event together for the kids, but we cannot hide how much it was for our team to have the kids there as well.

“Having the kids cheer for me and [Katarina] during our doubles match really motivated me to play well,” Gia McKnight said. “It felt good being a role model to aspiring tennis players. I hope this will become an annual event.”

The USTA’s purpose with the Campus Kids’ Days is to reach out to the community and make college tennis accessible for the younger generations.

“The biggest thing is realizing the college campuses and coaches are such a big resource for getting kids excited,” Erica Perkins, Senior Manager of Junior and Collegiate Competition for the USTA, said. “We really took something that some coaches were doing on their own and tried to institutionalize it to encourage coaches who haven’t thought about doing these programs.”

Perkins acknowledges that organizing the Kids’ Day might be challenging for some institutions, so she has a few tips for us, coaches:

- Keep it simple: The first thing it keeping the promotion simple to start with, such as a poster signing, racket stenciling, face-painting. You don’t have to bring in a big elaborate clinic. The kids will get excited about small stuff.

- Collaborate: If you coach both the men’s and the women’s team utilize the other team to do promotion or pick a day when both teams are playing at home.

- Reach out to academic programs: If your school has a sports management major or business program, you might find students who are interested in getting some experience

- Turn to the USTA: E-mail Erica Perkins at perkins@usta.com if you need any help. The USTA will be able to get you connected with a local/area representative who can provide resources and advice.

Even if we all do just one event per year, think about how many kids we can touch.

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