Keep it moving
In Virginia, a mobile program for kids keeps tennis rolling.
When you think about sports that are typically played on a neighborhood cul-de-sac or community playground, you think of kids dressed in old T-shirts and worn-out shorts playing a rousing game of street hockey, kickball, or maybe 3-on-3 basketball. You probably don’t recall those times when the neighborhood kids came together for a mean pick-up game of … tennis? So imagine Mike Mountjoy’s surprise in the late-1970s when a van pulled up on the street where he lived, several people got out and closed off his neighborhood to traffic, and they proceeded to set up a net across the road. “I was 9 years old,” Mountjoy recalls. “It was the first time I had ever held a tennis racquet in my life.”
Mountjoy’s tennis life changed from “first time” to “all the time” as he grew up to play competitive tennis in college, and eventually became the director of the Roger Flint Mobile Junior Tennis program (formerly known as Pepsi Mobile Tennis). In his fifth year as head of the program, Mountjoy now holds a tennis racquet five days a week, several hours a day, for six consecutive weeks during the summer. “I don’t know of any other community tennis program in the country with the scope and magnitude of ours,” Mountjoy says.
It began 26 years ago when a man by the name of Roger Flint had a vision about bringing tennis instruction directly to the kids, as opposed to bringing the kids to the tennis courts for a lesson. “I was really looking for a way to grow junior tennis in the area,” says Flint, a former executive of the local family-owned Pepsi bottling company, the first major sponsor of Mobile Tennis. Pepsi furnished the program with a vehicle to transport the equipment and with free drinks for all the participants.
Flint was a past president of the Charlottesville Tennis Patrons Association (CTPA) and was as passionate about serving his community as he was about the game of tennis. “Of all the things I’ve ever done in my life, the Mobile Tennis Program has been one of the most rewarding,” Flint adds. “To watch the hundreds of kids each summer develop their tennis skills and grow to enjoy the sport has brought me enormous satisfaction.”
In the years since the program’s inception, more than 10,000 children in Albemarle County, Virginia, have benefited from the Mobile Tennis program. Pat Hanssen, current president of the CTPA and the Northeast sales representative with Lee Tennis/Har-Tru, says, “You would be hard-pressed to find an outreach program as old as this one, with a staff as committed as Mike and his group of tennis instructors.”
This was the first year that Lee Tennis became a sponsor of the program, which was in jeopardy of ending due to a shortfall in funding. “We saw the opportunity to become involved with the Mobile Junior Tennis program as a great avenue to grow the game, while reaching a group of children that would otherwise never have the opportunity to play,” says Hanssen.
In addition to the Lee Tennis sponsorship, the CTPA for the first time provided tennis scholarships so four participants in the Mobile Tennis program could attend the Winter Tennis Excellence Program at Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va. “These scholarships will enable us to link up with other programs in the community that offer these youngsters the opportunity to play tennis year-round,” says Hanssen.
The Mobile Tennis Program visits 13 sites on a weekly basis for five to six weeks every summer, providing free drinks, tennis racquets, balls, and a net, if needed. High school and college tennis players are hired for the summer to teach the hundreds of kids how to play tennis. The program is also linked into the Albemarle County Parks and Recreation summer camp program, as well as the Charlottesville Parks and Recreation Department’s program, so kids can play tennis once a week during day camp.
Ten-year-old Tommy Harrison is one of the Parks and Recreation camp participants that has benefited from the Mobile Tennis Program. His father, Tom Harrison, was recently at one of the tennis lessons watching his son learn how to hit a forehand volley.
“We’re not a tennis family, but we’ve started playing since Tommy began this program,” Harrison says. “Now I play tennis a couple of times a week with my son, and he’s going to play tennis at school starting this fall. If this program hadn’t been offered, I don’t think either one of us would be playing.”
Mountjoy says he’s thrilled that kids like Tommy are starting to play tennis at school, and with their families. “School programs help us link up with other tennis opportunities for kids to play year round,” he says. “The quality of play at the junior level should start to improve, especially at the city schools where tennis hasn’t been as popular a sport.
“Roger Flint was an inspiration to me,” Mountjoy adds. “I can’t go anywhere in Charlottesville now without being recognized as the ‘tennis man.’ But the first tennis man is unquestionably Roger Flint. His drive to introduce kids to the game has led to the monumental success of the Mobile Tennis Program.”
See all articles by Linda S. Tissiere
About the Author
Linda S. Tissiere is the director of public relations for the Luck Stone Corp. of Richmond, Va.