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Summertime Serving: BHS coach hopes summer program will lead to success at high school level

More than 150 youths are in high school and middle school summer tennis classes. Shown above coach Mark Fodness works with Erin Edlund (left), Mattie Osborn and Abbie Kelm on their serves. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — For the fifth consecutive summer, Mark Fodness and a group of coaches are working to build a successful tennis program from the bottom up.

Fodness said the tennis program, that is open to all kids going into second grade through high school, had about 150 kids registered.

“When you look at the most successful tennis programs, you will see they all have very good youth programs,” Fodness said. “We are excited to get the kids started as young as we do.”

Fodness added that there are other programs in town and private lessons that are open for kids younger than the second graders involved in the summer tennis program.

Because the goal of the summer tennis program is to build a successful high school program, it is important to teach the same fundamentals to both the second graders and the high school players.

“We focus on fundamentals,” Fodness said. “Like other sports, it is hard to advance your level of play until you master the fundamentals. We basically focus on good serves, good ground strokes, and good net game. Those are three main components in tennis.”

“We are seeing great progress in those three areas at all of our levels,” Fodness added.

Fodness said that another main goal of the program was simply to keep the kids active during the summer.

“As we all know, it is important for all kids to be out and active,” Fodness said. “Tennis is a sport where you are never sitting. Keeping the kids active is a great feature of the game.”

Another advantage of the sport is that once a kid has learned the basics, it is relatively inexpensive and easy to go out and practice, either alone or with a friend.

“We are trying to give them the skills so when they go out and play, they are playing correctly,” Fodness said. “Once you can get the basic skills, you only really need a couple people to get out and have a fantastic workout.”

“We encourage them to find a friend and play outside of summer tennis,” coach Jamie Hoffman added. “We are looking to give them things to work on outside of our program.”

Hoffman and Ben Holter are two of the coaches. Both are recent college graduates and former Lumberjack tennis players.

Holter played tennis at South Dakota State while Hoffman played for the College of Saint Benedict.

“We have kids of all different ability levels here,” Hoffman said. “Anyone can come out, even if you are not playing high school tennis.”

In addition to the group lessons, the coaches offer tips to individuals throughout the practices.

“It is not just group lessons,” Holter said. “We pull kids aside to work individually with them to build off of our group lessons.”

Both the middle school and the high school host two sessions during the week. Practice and drills are conducted Monday through Thursday while Friday is reserved for match play.

“We have two sessions,” Holter said. “One from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and another from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. We have around 20 kids that come to each session.”

While the ultimate goal is to build a program for the future, the summer tennis group is helping prepare players for the Lumberjacks Open on Saturday and Sunday, as well as the girls high school season that begins with the first practice on Aug. 11.

Fodness stressed how important the summer months are for local tennis players, as he noted that the boys team only had one nice day to practice outdoors in the spring.

“In northern Minnesota, you really have to use the summer to develop as a tennis player,” Fodness said. “With the long winters and short seasons, the summer is very important.”