By Andrew Mitchell
The Whistler Racquet Club (WRC) has found the fountain of youth, with more than 70 local youth regularly participating in camps, clinics and other programs that were put into place over the past year.
“Over the last year we’ve worked with close to a thousand kids across the Sea to Sky corridor and given a set of four lessons through the schools for a small fee, and then the kids get a racquet at a reduced rate at the end of it,” said Marjorie Blackwood, director of tennis for the WRC.
Through the addition of Kirk Paterson as Community Champion, representing Tennis Canada to promote the sport in the community, the WRC has expanded to offer regular youth programming, including five junior tournaments this year. One has already taken place for local schools, and there is another Challenger tournament this weekend for kids 12 and up that already has more than 60 athletes signed up — including at least 18 local kids that are part of the WRC’s academy program. Future tournaments are on June 17, July 28-29 in Squamish, and the Champs tournament in late September.
“(Paterson’s) mandate is to grow grass roots tennis through Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton, and he has a lot of great plans and programs like progressive tennis,” said Blackwood.
Progressive tennis, Blackwood explains, allows children to play on smaller courts with lower nets and lighter balls.
“It’s the same thing as putting younger soccer players on smaller fields,” said Blackwood. “The program started in Europe, recognizing that younger kids don’t have the size or skills to play proper tennis and that it takes them a long time to be able to rally, much less play a game. Kids lose interest.
“The kids can really play when you put them on the smaller courts. It’s helping to be able to play and have fun at a much earlier age, and learn much quicker than using full-size equipment.”
Through the spring the WRC has offered kids aged 6 to 14 a chance to play every Wednesday for $7 for seven weeks, and the club has been getting more than 74 kids out a week. That program wraps up in June, but the WRC is offering camps through the summer.
As well, the youth academy program is starting to show results after two years, with kids training two or three days a week year-round.
“The improvement in them is fantastic,” said Blackwood. “(Paterson) has been taking them to tournaments in the city, using money we’ve raised for our grass roots programs to assist with their entrance fees and transport. The kids have been improving a lot down there, and it’s great to finally bring the tournament here where they can be a local presence.”
The WRC raised over $14,000 for its grass roots programs last year, including a $5,000 grant from the Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation. All of that money will go towards youth development says Blackwood.
On the adult side, the WRC is once again offering singles and doubles tournaments through the summer. Singles tournaments are on Tuesdays starting at 6:30 p.m., and doubles tournaments are the same time on Wednesdays. The cost is $10 per night for drop-in, or $75 for 12 weeks. That program gets underway June 12 and 13.
The club also recently hosted its 13 th annual Masters Doubles Tournament, sponsored by HSBC. Locals Peter Schelling and Esther Gorman took the mixed combined 100 title, while Blackwood and partner Janet Landucci won the women’s title.
Blackwood, a former national champion and internationally ranked player, is aiming to represent Canada in the 50-Plus category at the International Tennis Federation’s Masters World Championships in Turkey in 2008. En route she has already competed in the Canadian Indoor Nationals in Calgary, winning her category, and will compete in the Canadian Outdoor Nationals in Vancouver later this summer.
For more information on camps, clinics and programs, visit www.whistlertennis.com.