"Tennis is an awesome game."
That's how 8-year-old Shiriah Mitchell described the Tyler First Aces.
"Tennis is fun; and we learned about rules today," the Caldwell Elementary School second-grader continued.
She was one of about 75 youngsters, including many from the Boys & Girls Club of East Texas, attending the new program which serves as an introduction to the sport that is loved by millions.
The nationally ranked Tyler Junior College and UT Tyler tennis teams were on hand to demonstrate as well as instruct the children. Both TJC coach Dash Connell and UT Tyler coach Chris Bizot jumped at the chance to participate, even though the Apaches and Patriots are in the middle of their spring seasons.
Dr. Bruce Carter and former TJC tennis coach John Peterson organized the outing; and they hope it turns into an annual event.
"We are excited to have so many kids come out and enjoy a sport that not only will help them have a healthy life, but also focus on their future," Carter said.
The children were smiling as they arrived; high-fiving the Apaches and Patriots as they introduced themselves.
After a talk and prayer from Connell and Bizot, Peterson announced the exhibition mixed doubles super tiebreak match between TJC's Alejandra Enderica-Zach Dennis and UT Tyler's Jennifer Payne-Ryan Spencer.
Peterson explained the various rules from lets to double faults to volleys during play.
The kids picked a side and cheered them on. TJC won 10-7.
When the tennis players approached the net after the competition to shake hands, Peterson said, "That is how all tennis matches end; you come to the net to shake hands — win or lose."
It was a day of fun as well as introducing the youngsters to a new sport.
"What we are trying to achieve is introducing young kids to a sport that they can keep for a lifetime, which is tennis," Carter said. "We also want them exposed to a college campus and to see young people who excel at tennis and do well in college. We want them to look forward to ‘what can I do for my future?' — and what are some of the great local colleges that they can look forward to — Tyler Junior College, UT Tyler, a lot of the great institutions we have locally. … They can also look at these young people; learn from them and use them as role models."
He added that tennis is a sport they can play and possibly lead to a scholarship.
Carter said the First Aces is "a program born here in Tyler and we hope to spread to other communities. The USTA is partnering with us and co-sponsoring the event. They like the idea and they hope to see this kind of activity take place where local players join with kids who probably have never been exposed to tennis."
He added First Aces is much like golf's First Tee Program.
Before, during and after the instruction and exhibitions, the kids enjoyed face painting as well as ice cream and drinks provided by local tennis enthusiast Brad Brookshire.
Carter and Peterson said there are plans to refurbish the public courts in Tyler, starting with Woldert Park.
"The courts are next to the Glass Recreation Center; and once we renovate the courts, we hope to get tennis programs started, much like the Tyler Morning Telegraph's Summer Tennis Program," Peterson said.
From there, Peterson said the plan is to renovate courts at Fun Forest, Pollard and Bergfeld Parks.
"Tennis is a sport for everyone — it is not an elitist sport," he said. "I'm a thousand-years old and I'm still playing. It is a lifetime sport."