With a beautiful May sun reflecting off the nearby Christina River, a one-day tennis fair for hundreds of Wilmington youth took to the courts at Wilmington’s Riverfront today – the first time at the location. With ongoing construction at the Hotel DuPont, “Tennis in the Streets” moved cross-town this year from its longstanding Rodney Square.
The annual tennis event hosted by the USTA Delaware District brings lower and middle schoolers together for a day of fun centered around tennis. Today 1,000 students participated – 150 more than last year.
Each year dozens of certified tennis professionals from Delaware and surrounding areas take time away from their day jobs to provide basic instruction to younger ones and hopefully engage them in a lifelong love of the sport. Instructors brought gobs of enthusiasm, sharing their passion with kids who may not have much exposure to the game. With low, age-appropriate nets, high-compression balls, and youth-sized rackets, kids working in small groups were able to swing away at countless balls and get a feel for the game of tennis.
UD Men’s Tennis Coach Pablo Montana, members of his staff and Blue Hen players were also on hand to volunteer, running participants through fun drills, eliciting smiles and laughter along the way.
Another legendary Delaware tennis coach, Gene Thompson, has volunteered at Tennis in the Streets since the event’s inception back in 1986, when he worked for the Delaware Tennis Association. “I think this is just one of the most important events there is to introduce kids to tennis. I always plan to attend,” he said. “We tell these kids that tennis is a lifetime sport. Look at me. I won’t tell you exactly my age, but I’m still playing and loving the game decades after I started to play.”
Thompson has been the Head Coach for the men’s tennis team at Virginia State University for 13 years, and every year he makes the 4-hour drive up to Wilmington to participate. This year two of his teammates joined him — Jonathan Futks and Sulpan Kenes.
Volunteer Betsy Reinert quipped, “It was so cute to see some of those younger kids asking the VSU players to pose in pictures with them. The kids really had a ball with all of the student-athlete instructors today.”
Reinert calls Tennis in the Streets one of her favorite events of the spring and has volunteered for many years. While there were new faces in the crowd today, some 30 adults turn out every year to help the coaches, work with kids one on one, or pick up balls.
There was of course so much more – visits by Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and US Sen. Tom Carper, a cool DJ, grilled burgers and dogs, games, inflatables, and small giveaways and a visit by Rocky Bluewinkle from the Blue Rocks. An exceptional effort by a committed group of volunteers. “If you look at the smiles on the faces of all of these kids, it really makes the who event so worthwhile,” said lead organizer, Jim Flesch – yet another legendary tennis coach in Delaware.