"This is fun, and I'm good at it," said Lexis. "The racquet is cool and I can use it as a guitar too."
Lexis is one of more than 100 Knightsen Elementary School students participating in a youth tennis clinic, the first of its kind in East County. And if the laughter and enthusiasm are any indication, the program is a bouncing success.
With tennis balls flying and racquets swinging, these kindergarteners through second graders are having a ball. If organized chaos reigns on the school blacktop, that's OK. It's all part of greater plan.
"We just want them to play, have fun and hopefully develop a lifelong love for the game," said Lance Turner, who has brought the program to Knightsen. "We're just trying to hold their attention for now and show them a few basic skills. It's all about fun."
Sponsored in part by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and brought to local students by Turner and Don Purdy, the Future Stars 2000 program serves all of northern California.
Turner, the head tennis pro at the Discovery Bay Athletic Club, and Purdy, director of operations for the youth program, have banded together to bring area kids a passion for the game. "I just love tennis and I want to share that with the kids," said Turner. "It's my hope that I can introduce the game to the kids, and then they will continue on with it."
Turner has been bringing USTA youth programs to children for over 13 years. A Stockton-based dentist who sold his practice last year to concentrate on tennis full-time, Turner has organized and facilitated youth tennis programs for parks and recreation departments throughout the area, including Manteca, Tracy and Livermore.
It's his intention to do the same for the youth of East County, and he has begun with Knightsen. "We started here in Knightsen because we got a huge response," said Turner. "We spoke at a school assembly where there were over 800 kids, and we got 108 students to sign up for the program. That's an impressive turnout."
Turner's clinics are what he calls feeder programs, introductory courses designed to give kids a hands-on look at the game and encourage them to continue on to competitive play. The five-week program comes with instruction and a free tennis racquet, and is divided into three groups from kindergarten (in which players learn how to hold a racquet) through eighth grade (in which tournaments are played).
Turner's plan is to bring the program to the Discovery Bay club, and beginning in January he will be doing just that. Since March, when he came to the athletic club, he has recruited two other tennis pros, Brian Richardson and Diane Molsberry, both coaches at Deer Valley and Liberty High schools, respectively, to create a competitive junior tennis program.
So far, said Steve Leube, executive director of the USTA for Northern California, the results have been remarkable. "Lance has done just a fantastic job in coming into an area that has not had a lot of tennis opportunities," said Leube, "and grown a grass-roots tennis program that goes all the way up to the professional playing level. It's been quite an undertaking and he's done an impressive job."
For information on upcoming clinics, call (209) 483-8430 or 634-2530.