There were cheers and hoots of laughter coming from the tennis courts at Blatnick Park on Monday morning, and yellow-green tennis balls were flying everywhere.
It was the first day of the season for the Niskayuna Women’s Tennis Association, and a group of brave beginners came out for a clinic put on especially for those who had never done much more than watch the sport from the sidelines.
“How many of you know how to serve?” asked Jim Neal, one of two coaches who works with the group.
One of the nine participants tentatively raised her hand.
Neal swung into a combination pep talk and instructional session, and soon had the women swinging away on the courts.
The association, which is open to all women who live in Niskayuna and the Niskayuna Central School District, has welcomed fledgling and experienced players alike to participate in friendly competition at least as far back as 1977, said Judie Frank, the association’s president. This year’s roster includes
117 registrants who, for a $20 annual fee, are eligible to participate in weekly instructional clinics and matches, through June 12. Participants range from young mothers to women in their 80s.
Players learn a lot as the season progresses, said Frank, who has been involved with the group for six years.
“I’ve seen people that came on as beginners and they’ve improved so much,” she said. “It’s a great game because it’s a life sport; it’s something you can do as a kid and something you can do when you’re older.”
Cheers went up when clinic participant Ellen Lin of Niskayuna finally got the ball over the net. She had problems connecting racket to ball initially, but kept trying, under the gentle urging and lighthearted instruction of Neal.
She said she was eager to learn, since she had agreed to play a match Thursday.
“This is my son’s racket from when he was 9, so it’s a horrible racket,” she confided.
Linda Zahnleuter of Niskayuna, another first-time player, was drawn to the group by the fact that it welcomes beginners and also because of the price.
“It’s nice to find something that doesn’t cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and it’s a town resource. I’m so happy,” she called over her shoulder as she headed to the court to practice her serve.
The nine new players stood in an attentive semicircle as Neal explained the finer points of serving.
“The main thing about serving — I like to think it’s like throwing a ball, throwing anything, throwing acorns — the more your arm is relaxed, the farther you can throw,” he said.
As the women tested his advice on the court, he yelled out encouragement: “Your arm was nice and loose. The next one is going to be perfect.”
During the hourlong clinic, he also instructed the ladies on court positions and how to keep score, and generated lots of laughter along the way.
“Try not to yell when you see a ball coming,” he advised, eliciting appreciative chuckles all around.
Neal, who has been coaching high school tennis for about 15 years, said he finds teaching the sport to adult women even more rewarding.
“A lot of [the women] believe they can’t do something, and to see them achieve that makes me want to do it more,” he explained.
His message to anyone unsure about trying tennis, or anything new, for that matter: “You do it; if you have an interest, you do it. Don’t let people discourage you from doing it.”
The Niskayuna Women’s Tennis Association has reached its membership limit for this season, but substitute players are still being accepted. To sign up, call Nanette Hay at 280-3637.