The slogan, “Tennis anyone?” is one of the most iconic branding initiatives in all of sports. Making its debut in the late 1970s, it was a great conversation starter for anyone and everyone associated with the game of tennis and is still popular to this day.
Thanks to the Champaign and Urbana park districts and the University of Illinois, we are blessed to have so many strategically placed outdoor and indoor tennis courts where family and friends can get together and play. You’ll often see the campus courts being used from early morning to late at night. And, along with these courts come a plethora of opportunities teaching one how to play the game, from ages 3 to 83. Our park districts even work together, as the Champaign Park District provides instruction on both park districts’ courts. Depending on the time of year, one can find more than 100 3- to 5-year-olds; 150 6- to 9-year-olds and 100 10- to 12-year-olds receiving instruction and guidance from certified teaching professionals.
Yuri Sohn, head tennis professional for the Champaign Park District, says its motto is, “Educate. Inspire. Entertain.”
“It’s affordable and family-oriented, and we run programs year-round,” he said.
For competitive adults, they have the Bronze-Silver-Gold leagues based on a player’s USTA rating. They’re extremely popular, and as this writer can attest, they are fun and at times can be competitive. OK, very competitive. But after the match is over opponents shake hands and walk — or limp — off together, smiling, respectful of each other’s play and appreciative of the workout they’ve just received.
Scott Davis, Champaign Central’s boys’ tennis coach, says he doesn’t cut anyone, as he knows from playing the game that some young man might learn how to play the game, and thus make it a lifelong passion. Davis said he finds that very satisfying.
At Atkins Tennis Center, Teri Scaggs’ title as Champaign local league coordinator fits her perfectly. She coordinates about 50 USTA teams, nearly 23 USTA singles and doubles leagues and six non-USTA leagues. They’re so popular that even tennis players from southern Illinois and Kentucky travel to Champaign just to play in these leagues. (I told you tennis players are fanatics!) Teri goes above and beyond to try to accommodate everyone’s professional, personal and league schedules, as some may play in three or more leagues at once. The USTA has even added new leagues this year to accommodate more players and make it more player/tennis friendly so it’s not as intimidating. As Teri said, “As social as tennis is, some don’t enjoy playing in a competitive environment and often feel intimidated. This gives them a chance to play for recreation and exercise with the goal of meeting new people since this is a very transient area.”
The Junior Excellence Training — or JET — program at Atkins is geared toward the junior player competing on the USTA junior circuit. Christine Stromberg, who played for Illinois from 2006 to ’10, is a current graduate assistant and works a lot with this group. It’s obvious the players have her respect and respond to her instruction, coaching and guidance. “Tennis players often find themselves competing against their friends, which is tough to do and can be hard to handle at times. A lot of these juniors are hoping to play in college on scholarship someday, so it’s a very competitive, goal-oriented group. Still, we stress that the experience is more important than the results.”
So, it doesn’t matter what age or skill level or even where you reside, Champaign-Urbana tennis is alive and well! “Tennis anyone?”