Sports fans who watch tennis from Wimbledon or the U.S. Open each year may be surprised to learn that 70 percent of the nation’s tennis is played on public courts – in parks or other locations away from private clubs.
That’s according to a couple of tennis aficionados who were on Town Talk Monday to talk about an upcoming event that’s taking place at one such local public park.
Local youth have the chance to participate in a free “skills and drills” tennis clinic at Fox Pond Park in Vance County, one of those public spots where folks can use the courts to learn the game or to hone their skills.
The free clinic is Saturday, May 14 from 10 a.m. to noon for youth ages 5 to 18 – the only requirement is to wear appropriate sneakers or tennis shoes, according to Jerry Edmonds, III, vice president of Edmonds Tennis & Education Foundation.
That same morning, two of the courts will be dedicated in the memory of a Henderson junior tennis standout who played at the college level, racking up titles and championships along the way. She spent a lot of time on the Fox Pond courts, and the Henderson City Council last year approved naming courts 1 and 2 in memory of Mary Lloyd Hodges Barbera.
ETEF is putting on the clinic in partnership with the City of Henderson and the N.C. Tennis Foundation and U.S. Tennis Association of North Carolina.
The ETEF was established in 2018 as a way to using tennis to provide academic and athletic opportunities for underserved youth in rural North Carolina. It is based in Henderson.
Edmonds and N.C. Tennis Association Executive Director Kelly Gaines told John C. Rose about the event and the role tennis continues to play in their lives.
Gaines said Barbera was a little younger than she was, but they grew up playing tennis with and against each other in various tournaments and later at Peace College. Barbera was good enough, Gaines noted, that she’d often “play up,” which meant she competed against older players.
“She always knew how to put (the ball) past me,” Gaines said of her longtime friend and colleague with the NCTA. “It is my honor to shine a light on Mary Lloyd,” she said, adding that she is “thrilled” that the Fox Pond Park courts will bear her name.
Barbera died in 2015 at the age of 49.
The ETEF incorporates education when introducing young people to the sport of tennis. The sport supports development of the whole child, Edmonds said, because it incorporates qualities like honesty, fair play and integrity. It helps that players don’t need a lot of equipment to play – just a racquet, some tennis balls and, of course, the right type of shoe.
Gaines said tennis for younger children is like other sports – it’s scaled down to accommodate the youngsters and to allow them to have success early. Starting out, the kids may use a slower ball, a smaller racquet and a shorter court as they build their skill set.
“Tennis is a sport for a lifetime,” Gaines said. Pairing the sport with that education component is a perfect way to increase the possibility of young people continuing to play into adulthood.
“If they start out (playing tennis) as a child, even if they put the racquet down, they’re more likely to pick it back up as an adult,” Edmonds said.
The ETEF pays tribute to Edmonds’s parents, who moved to the area more than 30 years ago and probably taught more than 3,000 the game of tennis in his time here.
Now, Edmonds said through partnerships with agencies like The Salvation Army, Turning Point CDC, 4-H and the local Boys & Girls Club, youngsters can learn about tennis.
“Now they have that tennis component as part of their summer camps as well,” Edmonds said, which means there will be “more tennis racquets in youths’ hands for a longer period of time.”
“We feel a huge obligation to prepare the next generation to keep this legacy going,” he added.
Gaines said that anyone who knew Barbera – whether as a willowy tennis player hitting balls at Fox Pond or as an adult ambassador for the NCTA for 15 years – can recall that infectious smile.
“She believed that tennis was for everybody,” Gaines said, adding that her friend wanted everyone to give the game a try, no matter their ability level. “It is for all of us,” she said.
“The fact that kids will come along and play on those courts – she’ll be smiling at us and we’ll feel her presence.”