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Tennis camp aims to spark love for tennis in Bedford

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By Melanie Schumilas

Susan Kirby, the instructor of the tennis camp being held at Liberty Lake Park, remembers a time when all the courts in Bedford were full.

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“When I grew up, tennis was unbelievably popular within the community,” said Kirby, who grew up on Peaks St. with the former Bedford Central Library courts in her backyard. “The courts would be full all the time... people would literally wait on the benches for hours to get to play. I see the courts now, and no one is here.”

Kirby’s love for tennis began at age 5 and hasn’t slowed down. The Liberty HS alumna played throughout high school, two years at Ferrum College and was a member of several USTA leagues in the area.

After seeing Bedford’s love for tennis dissipate, Kirby decided holding a tennis camp during the summer was the first step in reintroducing tennis to the community.

With the help of Stuart Saunders, the recreation program coordinator for Bedford County Parks and Recreation, Kirby was able to launch her “pilot program” summer tennis camp on July 10 at Liberty Lake Park.

Kirby offered two, two week sessions, the first running from July 10-21 and the second July 24- Aug. 4. Kirby said she tried to schedule the camp so it wouldn’t interfere with vacation time or recreation football/baseball leagues in order to maximize the turnout.

Kirby was thrilled with the turnout of the first sessions. Since more than 20 kids showed up, Kirby was able to break the groups into different levels (beginner and advanced beginner) to work on different skills and provide more attention to the groups.

For the beginners group, Kirby teaches them all the parts of racquets, the purpose and name for the lines on the court as well as how to score properly. After the campers have a grasp on the technical basics, Kirby shows them basic ball handling skills and then moves into practicing proper groundstroke and service technique.

For the advanced beginner campers, Kirby teaches them how to volley and hit overheads. Both groups of youth campers are able to practice their newfound skills in games at the end of the hour-long session.

Kirby’s adult session, which ran from 8-9 p.m. had eight adults come out to learn the game and make new friends.

The interest in Kirby’s tennis camp renewed her hope that Bedford could once again have a thriving tennis scene.

“It’s a great sport. I started as early as five, but I have interest in a senior citizen program... tennis is for all ages,” said Kirby. “Unfortunately, it’s gotten the reputation of being a rich man’s sport, but it’s not. All you need is a pair of tennis shoes, and I’ve picked up some really nice racquets from Goodwill for $5. It’s not a rich man’s sport... anybody can get out here and play at any age or any level.”

Kirby expressed gratitude for the volunteer help from several members of Liberty HS’ tennis team. Zach Key, the Minuteman’s No. 1 single seed, and Will Davis have both come out to help. Kirby’s brother and Liberty’s boys tennis head coach, Rick Falls, along with Liberty’s girls tennis head coach, Madison Karnes, have also lent a helpful hand.

While the main point of the camp is to teach participants the fundamentals of tennis, Kirby noted that several of her adult campers have found the game therapeutic.

“We’re just having a good time out here,” said Kirby with a big, enthusiastic smile.