The future of tennis is in good hands if the attendance at the East Hampton Indoor/Outdoor Tennis Club’s “festival” for kids was any indication.
As their parents looked on through the club’s glassed-in lounge Saturday, some 60 to 70 youngsters — the youngest being 3 years old, the eldest being 10 — had a lot of fun while being eased into the game by two of the club’s young pros, Vanessa Heroux, a former National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics doubles national champion, and Kevin Cretella, who played with the managing partner Scott Rubenstein’s son Brian on James Madison University’s team.
Heroux, who is a native of Montreal, and Cretella hadn’t expected such an overwhelming turnout, but, with the help of some of the club’s other pros, were able to manage.
“We’ll be using the U.S.T.A.’s 10-and-under format in our kids’ program this summer, with everything — nets, rackets, balls — scaled to their size and speed, but today,” Heroux added, as legions of “dodgeball” teams dashed toward each other from the opposite baselines to retrieve and hurl soft tennis balls across the net, “is all about having fun. . . . The younger they start, the better. The kids are our future.”
The Hampton Racquet Club, which is on Buckskill Road, not far away from E.H.I.T., is to have its Kids Day this Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a good-size turnout is expected there as well, for John Graham, who, with his sister, Monica, revived the former Green Hollow club last year, is a highly regarded teacher of children.
In a conversation the other day, Graham said he wants to “make this place a family club again, which is the way I grew up, in a family-oriented club up the Island where you had 12-year-olds hitting with 60-year-olds.”
“Tactical tennis will be emphasized. We want them to play, but we also want them to know how to play, and to reinforce that, we’ll use chess for strategy, golf for eye-hand coordination, yoga for calming the mind . . . we’ll have an art program too, even a learning garden.”
Kids from the age of 5, he said, “will play matches . . . my hope is that we can develop a junior tournament circuit among the clubs here. . . . I also want to link what we do with local charities. Our main ones are Fighting Chance, the East Hampton Day Care Learning Center, the Animal Rescue Fund, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the Retreat. When you sign up for a package of lessons, for instance, some of that money can be donated to a charity. It’s a way of giving back to the community, of bringing the community together.”
“I want the club to be a centerpiece of play and learning,” Graham said in parting. “I want to combine the best tennis has to offer with summer experiences that last a lifetime. . . . My passion is tennis, my love is kids.”