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Bemidji summer tennis program a smash

Abby Johnson hits the tennis ball during a game of “Champs” Thursday during a Bemidji Youth Summer Tennis program held at the tennis courts at Bemidji Middle School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
Mary Beth Matthews returns the ball during a game of “Champs” Thursday during a Bemidji Youth Summer Tennis program held at the tennis courts at Bemidji Middle School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Tiernan Atteberry swings his racket to hit the tennis ball a game of “Champs” Thursday during a Bemidji Youth Summer Tennis program held at the tennis courts at Bemidji Middle School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer) 3 / 4
Kyle Fodness, director of Bemidji Youth Tennis, talks to Bemidji Youth Summer Tennis program participants held at the tennis courts at Bemidji Middle School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI — The humidity was nearly oppressive Thursday afternoon, but the water breaks were relatively few.

About 60 tennis players in grades six through eight took to the tennis courts with glee. They were having too much fun for water breaks.

Kyle Fodness had to order them to stop playing and hydrate.

“Quick water break, quick water break, guys! Don’t forget to hydrate!”

The kids were busy playing some mini-games as they took their final swings of the summer as part of the Bemidji Tennis Foundation’s summer-tennis program.

The long-running program has seen a significant uptick in participation in the five years that Fodness has been the director of the youth summer tennis program.

“For this year, we had about 125 kids, which is still up a little bit,” Fodness said. “This year, we expanded to first grade. And we’ve been going so well the past few years that we’ve been able to add a few more coaches. I’ve done this for five years and every year we’ve done it, we’ve added about 15 kids.”

This year, the program had a little more than 60 kids in the elementary school (grades one through five) program and a little less than 60 in the middle school program.

There’s also a high school summer tennis program, which is mainly for players on the Bemidji High School team.

Fodness, who is also the head coach for the Bemidji Middle School team in addition to helping out with the BHS and Bemidji State teams on a volunteer basis, is a former BMS and BHS tennis player who came up in the summer tennis program.

Back then, it was run by longtime coach Pete Sullivan. He recently retired from teaching and coaching and Fodness has taken over.

“Pete did such a great job with it. I remember I really enjoyed the summer program back when I played, so I want it to continue to grow for other kids who are interested in playing tennis,” Fodness said.

The summer tennis program is run by the Bemidji Tennis Foundation, which is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the Bemidji-area tennis community grow.

Kyle’s dad Mark Fodness, who is the head coach for the BHS boys and girls tennis teams and the BSU women’s team, oversees Bemidji Tennis.

“The sole purpose of Bemidji Tennis is to support the tennis programs in the schools,” Mark Fodness said. “I think there’s a lot of room there to make both programs even better than they are now.”

Kyle Fodness said that any profits the summer and offseason program makes go back into the school tennis teams.

“The biggest thing is we can have equipment for kids that don’t have a racquet, don’t have equipment or if they can’t pay the fee,” he said. “We can support them and make sure the money isn’t a hindrance to them.”

The coaching staff for the summer program is filled with former Bemidji tennis players currently playing in college as well as members of the BSU team that stick around in the summer.

“The more kids we have, the more coaches we can have and any time you can keep that ratio low it’s really nice,” Fodness said. “And one of the really nice things since my dad started coaching the college is that connection with BSU. We’re able to get some top players to hit with and play against for those that want a little more competition.”

Although the summer program is something of a “farm team” for both the high school and middle school programs, Fodness said his main goal is simply to get more people playing the sport.

“The nice thing about tennis is, even if you have someone that doesn’t want to play tennis in high school, they come out here and remember, ‘Hey, for three years, I had a blast playing tennis and I can play until I’m 85,’” Fodness said. “It’s an easy pitch to make to kids and parents. You come and play for a summer, you learn how to do it, you can do it forever. You don’t have to play in high school, or in middle school you can just play for fun.”

For more information on Bemidji Tennis, visit www.bemidjitennis.com or email Fodness at bemidjitennis@gmail.com.

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