About 50 East Valley kids got some help with their tennis game Thursday morning from two tennis legends: Rosie Casals and Tory Fretz.
“We’re here to see what we can do to help grow tennis in the valley and expose all the kids to it, and this is a wonderful opportunity,” said Casals, who lives in the Coachella Valley, as does Fretz.
In addition to volunteering their time to help the kids, they presented a $5,000 donation from the Tory Fretz and Jackie Cooper Jr. Tennis Fund to help the program. Casals, 66, was 8 years old when she was first introduced to tennis at San Francisco Golden Gate Park. It was a program offered through the public parks system, much like the camp being put on Thursday, she said. “I realized then there was more than just my neighborhood” in the world, she said.
This is the 16th year for the youth tennis camp, hosted by the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and sponsored by Coachella Valley Housing Coalition, RaboBank and Coachella Valley Unified School District’s ASES program.
Tennis legend Rosie Casals signs a wooden racket Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Casals was ranked among the top three women’s tennis players in the world. (Photo: Lucas Esposito/The Desert Sun)
The kids, ages 8 to 16 years old, are from Mecca, Coachella and Indio and are bussed in for the camp, held two hours a day, twice a week throughout the month of July. It’s all offered for free.
“They don’t have a lot of exposure to tennis, so we wanted to give them that opportunity,” said Nadia Villagrán of the CV Housing Coalition.
Tennis pro Tom Fey coaches the kids, mixing a high dose of fun with every lesson.
“Some of these kids get on the bus at 6:30 in the morning to get here,” Fey said.
Bianca Cerros, 9, holds a tennis racket and an ice-pop Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. About 50 East Valley children had the opportunity to improve their tennis skills by learning from two tennis legends: Rosie Casals and Tory Fretz. (Photo: Lucas Esposito/The Desert Sun)
They start with the basics, learning the terminology and doing exercises to build their strength and agility. But the camp isn’t just about tennis, Fey said.
“We’re trying to get them to be physically active and tennis provides that,” he said.
In addition to the annual tennis camp, the kids also go to tournaments, including the Mercedes Cup in Los Angeles and the BNP Paribas Open every March at the tennis garden where some also play in the Kids Day tournament, Villagrán said.
Most of the kids hadn’t heard of Casals or Fretz before Thursday’s session, so 12-year-old Vivian Jacobs searched them out on the Internet. She was impressed by their careers and how long they have been playing. In addition to the grand slams, both also played World Team Tennis.
Tennis legend Rosie Casals signs a water bottle Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Casals was ranked among the top three women’s tennis players in the world. (Photo: Lucas Esposito/The Desert Sun)
“I think it’s cool,” said Jacobs, who also plays softball. It’s her second year in the tennis camp, and before last year’s sessions, she had never picked up a racket.
“I like it a lot,” Jacobs said. “The technique is different. When I first tried tennis, I had to learn to hit (the ball) softer,” she said.
Twelve-year-old Pedro Ramirez is in his second year of camp and said he has learned a lot, not just about tennis, but leadership and teamwork.
Camp tennis coach Tom Fey, right, and another instructor play tennis with a group of children Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. About 50 East Valley kids had the opportunity to improve their tennis skills by learning from pros Rosie Casals and Tory Fretz. (Photo: Lucas Esposito/The Desert Sun)
“Without this (program), I don’t think I would have learned tennis,” he said.
Casals could relate. Without that opportunity through a public program, she may never have found her natural talent for the sport.
“I was really lucky. It came very, very easy to me. I loved it and knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.
The Tennis Hall of Famer was ranked among the top three women’s tennis players in the world.
Tennis is a great way for kids to learn that they can’t always win and how to keep pushing on, developing perseverance and character, said Fretz, who was 10 when she had her first lesson. She’s now 72.
Two young tennis players celebrate a point Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. About 50 East Valley kids had the opportunity to improve their tennis skills by learning from two tennis legends: Rosie Casals and Tory Fretz. (Photo: Lucas Esposito/The Desert Sun)
Both Casals and Fretz live in the Coachella Valley and are committed to making sure all kids have access to the sport.
“This is my passion … working with kids,” Fretz said, standing on the edge of the tennis court, watching the students do their drills.
The camp ends July 30 with a tournament, pizza party and awards ceremony.