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Summer racquet

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Isabella Starr, 10, tosses a ball to her opponent in a game of agility tennis, Wednesday morning at the Connersville Youth Tennis camp at the Connersville High School tennis courts. Played with no raquets, agility tennis helps players focus on footwork and ball placement strategy.
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Participants from the Connersville Youth Tennis camp gather for a photo at the CHS tennis courts on Wednesday morning. The camp began on Monday and concluded with two hours of work on Wednesday morning. A total of 18 kids participated in the event.
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Chris Bloom, right, shakes hands with Finn Smith, during an award ceremony at the Connersville Youth Tennis camp, Wednesday at the Connersville High School tennis courts. This is the second year that Bloom, the high school boys tennis coach, hasoffered the three-day camp for local kids.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

For a second straight summer, local youths have taken over the Connersville High School tennis courts, if only for a few days, led by CHS boys tennis coach Chris Bloom.

Beginning on Monday and concluding on Wednesday, the second annual Connersville Youth Tennis camp took center stage on the local courts, and 18 kids took advantage of the opportunity.

Some in attendance were repeat campers, but not all of them.

“We actually saw a lot of new faces this year, and that is really encouraging,” Bloom said. “There were some on vacation this week, so I am sure there were a few more that we might have missed.”

Those who might not have been able to show up missed work on fundamental skills in the game, Bloom pointed out.

“We taught them how to hit a forehand, and in fact, spent a lot of time on that,” he said. “We also spent a little time working on backhands and serving.

“A lot of what we do here is teaching them how to move on the court, and letting them see what tennis looks like. To do that, we had them doing a lot of smaller games that closely resembled tennis.”

One of those games is called agility tennis, a game in which neither player uses a racquet. Instead, the contestants toss the ball over the net, they wait on their opponent to catch it, and throw it back.

“It’s a game that allows them to work on their footwork,” Bloom said. “It also helps them with strategy in placing the ball.”

Winners of the agility tennis contest on Wednesday were Grady Simpkins and Claire Harvey.

Watching the youngsters toss the ball back and forth on the final day of the camp, one could see that the kids were comfortable with the game, the proof of that coming in several long rallies.

That wasn’t the case early in the camp, however.

“Our first day was a little bit of a struggle, but by the second, you could see that the kids were really trying to do the things that we were asking them to,” Bloom said.

For many of the young players, some of them seeing tennis for the first time, getting used to the game was a big key.

“In tennis, a lot of the things you’re asked to do won’t seem natural, but the kids did a nice job overcoming a lot of that,” Bloom said. “I think they found out that tennis is really competitive. I’m sure for some of them, it was not the game they thought it was.

“They were able to actually come out here, compete on the court, and learn what the game truly is.”

Helping Bloom along the way was much of his high school roster. 

“It’s very important to have the boys and (CHS girls player) Morgan Hauger out here helping with this,” the CHS mentor said. It allows the kids to see that the older student athletes are here to encourage them.”

Assisting at the camp wound up as a benefit for his older players, as well, Bloom added.

“For my high school players, they get the opportunity to see what it’s like to teach younger kids,” he said. “They get to see the frustration of trying to teach the younger kids, while at the same time experience the joy that comes when the kids start to learn what they’re trying to show them.”

He added that the campers were drawn to the older players on hand.

“The younger kids start hugging on the legs of the older kids a little too much at times,” he said with a big smile. “It’s great to see those connections between the kids. We don’t have a youth program yet, so this is our one way to get them out there on the court.”

Bloom says that he plans on bringing the camp back again next summer, and added that he might toss in another one prior to that, this one under the lights at night.

For now, however, he was very pleased with what he saw during this year’s camp.

“I thought that all the kids did a great job, over all,” he said.