New Britain City Journal

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The Sports Journal

Tennis Lessons Top Parks Program this Summer

For over 40 years, the New Britain Parks and Recreation Department has offered tennis lessons for residents of all ages. This summer will be no different as they are gearing up for yet another season at Walnut Hill Park, which will begin on June 2 and end on August 20.

Craig Bowman, Recreation Specialist, says that there are many goals with this program but one of the primary ones is to make people aware of the sport and to teach them the proper way to play.

“Tennis is actually quite a popular sport in the rest of the world, but has been suffering in the United States. We need to expose the sport to the next generation and get them involved. The main goal is for kids to be aware of tennis and make it appealing to them. With the level of difficulty, it is easy for kids to become frustrated, but helping make things less complicated will make them want to continue and learn more. Tennis is unique in that it teaches you self-discipline and more about perseverance. We want to show kids as well as families how talented players can be with practice and persistence. Being good at something does not take place overnight.”

In addition to all of that, Bowman sees this as an opportunity to grow the sport at a grassroots level and really get people involved at an early age.

“Research has shown in recent studies that tennis needs more attention at the grassroots levels. Kids who pick up the sport at a younger age are more likely to continue playing it for a longer and more sustained period of time. USTA puts a ton of trust in us with their funds to help grow the sport in New Britain and it is paying off. Our largest class sizes are in the 6-8 and 9-12 range.”

The classes are taught by high quality instructors. This includes John Oliver, Eric Henne and Jake Zapatka. Oliver is a certified tennis instructor and has close to 40 years of playing and teaching experience. Henne is the varsity girls’ tennis coach at Newington High School and was a 4-year player at Springfield College. Zapatka grew up playing the sport at Pine Acres in Wethersfield and now plays tennis at Nichols College.

The program allows all types of players with various skill sets to participate. Bowman talked about how they go about splitting players up with varying skill sets.

“If you are a competitive high school player, the program allows you to prepare early the next upcoming spring season. The program is also valuable to beginners, both youth and adult, who are just picking up the sport because our high level instructors are able to separate certain skilled players onto specific courts with other players of matching skills.”

If you don’t fit in either category and fall in the middle, the USTA Junior tennis team is also an option. Since 1994, USTA-New England has teamed up with the Parks and Recreation department through a community grant. This grant allows the department to hire extra instructors to provide more advanced skill training to these select participants.

The USTA junior team consists of high-level students ages 11-18 that like to play competitive matches. The fee for this program is $100 due to the practices on Mondays & Wednesdays as well as three Grand Prix matches throughout the season, with a district-wide “final tournament” at the end. If you’re an advanced adult player, the revamped Adult Team Tennis program will be available on Monday and Thursday nights for adults with a match rating of 2.5-3.0. Matches for the adult team are played on Mondays with practices every Wednesday and Thursday. The fee for this class is $60.

Last summer, the program saw over 175 people participate in the program and Bowman hopes to keep increasing that number every year. A big reason for this, according to Bowman, is that it is very affordable compared to lessons given at private clubs in the local area. Moving into the future, he is excited about the numerous possibilities that are in store for the city.

“Our tennis program is almost a year round program. We offer fall lessons for a six week period on Saturday afternoons at Walnut Hill Park. We are also teaming with USTA this fall to create a middle school program that will compete with other towns in the area using USTA funds. In the winter, we offer a two month winter lesson program at CCSU on Sunday afternoons. In conjunction with that lesson program, we created a USTA U-18 and U-14 team that plays other private and public tennis programs during the cold months. In an ideal world, we would love to be a feeder program for the high school level and with us offering this comprehensive program, it can only benefit Coach Coates and Coach Vaverchek at NBHS. Hopefully our new middle school program in the fall helps with this as well.”

Classes run every Tuesday & Thursday at Walnut Hill Park from 4:00pm – 8:00pm and are broken down into the following four age groups: #2701-1 ages 6-8 (4-5 p.m.), #2702-1 ages 9-12 (5-6 p.m.), #2703-1 ages 13-18 Beginner/Intermediate (6-7 p.m.), and #2704-1 Adult Beginners (7-8 p.m.). The summer program consists of three 4-week sessions, and the fee for each is $40 per person.

The department accepts registrations on a first-come first-served basis. Registrations are accepted either by mail, at the office in Room 302 of City Hall or online at If you have any questions please call the New Britain Recreation Hotline at 860- 826-3360.