The math speaks volumes about the Tri-County Elementary and Middle School Tennis League run by the Charleston Recreation Department.
This year’s league has 118 teams, most of them with 10 players, give or take a few, on each team. The league has been around for more than 30 years.
Many of the thousands upon thousands who have participated in the leagues no doubt got their first exposure to the game through the program. No wonder Charleston was named the country’s Best Tennis Town in 2010 by the U.S. Tennis Association.
“We started it probably 30 years ago,” said Peggy Bohne, who heads up the city of Charleston’s tennis program. “The first year we had seven teams. I’d say 40 to 50 this year are middle school and the rest are elementary school.”
Bohne’s work with the program was recently recognized during the Family Circle Cup by the Charleston Initiative, a group funded by a grant from the U.S. Tennis Association. She received the Nancy J. McGinley Tennis Advocate of the Year Award. The Charleston Tennis Initiative also recognized Passionate Parents and Game Changers for their work in elementary and middle school tennis.
The Tri-County Elementary and Middle School Tennis League includes both public and privates schools. Divisions within the age groups are based on the skill level of players, some raw beginners and some state-ranked tennis players.
The older age groups, or middle schoolers, play with regular balls on regulation tennis courts. Fourth and fifth graders play on 60-foot courts using a special orange and yellow ball. Grades 1-3 play on special 36-foot courts with small nets, using a red and yellow ball that is larger in size and has a lower compression. Most matches are played weekdays after school. The program is supported by public and private facilities who allow use of their courts.
Up to nine players can compete in a match, which consists of five singles and two doubles matches, and a team can play with as few as five players. Each team plays four home and four away matches during the season. Teams are coached by volunteers.
Bohne said costs are minimal. There is a $25 entry fee for a team but no cost to the individual. Each team must provide the balls used for home matches, meaning a total of 16 cans. Players have to own their own racquets, which sell for about $20 each, although loaner racquets often are available.
Teams compete in a tournament following the end of the regular season.
Bohne said family is a child’s first community followed by the school so competing for one’s school is a way to connect with that community and youngsters love playing for their school.
“Children need to get outside in the sun for psychological and physical benefits,” Bohne said. “We have a spot for every child.”