Auriana Johnson, 5, watches the ball intently as she prepares to practice her swing during the YMCA's tennis program Thursday morning. -Staff Photos: Crystal Tatum
COVINGTON -- There was a pint-sized tennis game underway at Covington Family YMCA Thursday, and the 5-year-olds hitting foam balls over a short net weren't intimidated about being coached by a pro.
David Mathews, recently inducted into the Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame, was tossing balls and teaching the basics to students in the YMCA's Summer Day Camp.
This is the first tennis program hosted by the YMCA, made possible through a grant from the United States Tennis Association and the Georgia Tennis Federation. In addition to equipment, the grant pays for the David Mathews Tennis Academy to visit YMCAs and expose kids to the game of tennis.
"The whole idea is to get the whole state almost to use this as a model of how to expose kids at a younger age to play tennis," Mathews said, adding that he didn't start playing until he was a teenager.
Mathews was a member of the 2005 United States Dubler Cup Team World Champions and the 1995 United States Italia Cup Team Finalists. He was the Georgia Adult Male Player of the Year in 1991 and 1995; is a four-time Atlanta Senior Invitational Singles Champion; an 11-time USTA National Champion; and a 10-time Mens Intersectional Team Champion. But, he said, there's no telling how far he could have gone if he had started playing a few years earlier. Mathews will coach camp students periodically throughout the summer.
Executive Director Louly Hay Kapp said Newton County needs a tennis program, as many parents take their kids across county lines to play. She said she hopes this will be the first step towards a full-fledged tennis program at the YMCA.
"I think any time we can expose a child to any sport and keep them moving and active and inspired, it's a good thing. Tennis is a great sport because you can play up until you're 75, 80 years old," she said.
The tennis program is held three days a week during the six-week Summer Day Camp.
Summer Day Camp runs May 28-Aug. 1. Kids age 5 to 12 can participate. Many of the children are beneficiaries of the YMCA's scholarship program, Hay Kapp said. For more information, contact the Y at 770-787-3908.