Bridgeport, CT; A Growing Hot Spot for Tennis
Just two years ago, the sport of tennis was not a popular pastime for children in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The opportunity to play was there, in the clubs and on public courts, but the knowledge and love for the game was not. However, stepping onto the courts of the 2012 Bridgeport Lighthouse Tournament on Thursday, May 24th, you never would have known that.
The onslaught of more than 250 eager fifth through eighth graders on the Glenwood tennis courts would have made you think you were in a place of tennis tradition. During the growing annual tournament, children from the Bridgeport School District, who also participate in the afterschool Bridgeport Lighthouse Program, played on modified 36’ courts and rallied for a chance to win trophies and other prizes. Dozens of spectators lined the courts to watch.
"It’s incredible to see the kids get so excited and the support from the community is growing every year", said Tammy Papa, the Bridgeport Lighthouse Program’s Director.
With the help of the Bridgeport Lighthouse Program, the USTA national office, USTA New England and the city of Bridgeport have committed to grow tennis in the city for the next two years. As part of a specialized target market initiative, the USTA national office and USTA New England are granting more than $68,000 to the community and the city of Bridgeport is contributing more than $22,000 to fund tennis programs from 2011-2013.
USTA New England Community Relations Manager for Southern Connecticut, Meg Angeletti, can see what a difference the focus on Bridgeport has made, "Kids are excited to play tennis. A couple of years ago, most of these kids had never even picked up a racket before. Now, not only have they learned the sport, but they are becoming better players and look forward to being out on the courts."
As a result of the partnerships, the kids are learning tennis in their afterschool Bridgeport Lighthouse Program and in physical education classes where tennis has not been a mainstream sport in past years. Deirdre Tindall, USTA New England Community Tennis Director said, "The sport of tennis is really taking off in Bridgeport and it's been a joy a see. The USTA and our partners have worked hard to ensure the kids here are learning tennis from a young age with proper equipment and instruction. That work is paying off, especially at this tournament. The ear to ear smiles on the kids’ faces say it all."
Cheers and laughter could be heard throughout the park as teams celebrated their victories and encouraged each other to play hard. Each coach was responsible for keeping score at the tournament and rotating players so each child had the same amount of play time.
"The day was amazing. The kids were very enthusiastic about being there. They’ve been playing tennis all year and then they had the chance to showcase their skills at the tournament," said longtime tennis instructor and Bridgeport Community Tennis Association Executive Director, Marcy Rubinstein. She added, "They really know that we care about them. When we donate the right equipment and they can bring it out afterschool, they know people are supporting them. The desire to play is growing and that’s wonderful."
Each player left the tournament with a medal, a healthy snack, a tee-shirt and a souvenir to remember the day. Winners for each division of play were awarded with trophies.
But perhaps the most rewarding part of the tournament was realizing that tennis is becoming a more popular—and even preferable sport—in the city. Rubinstein said, "I overheard some kids telling their parents they want to come back and play here again. That is a true testament of the work we are doing to grow tennis here in Bridgeport."