Each August, the top junior players from across the country gather to compete in the USTA Girls’ 16s and 18s National Championships in San Diego. For some local residents, however, the behind the scene action proved to be just as much fun. A hard working and talented ballkid crew offered outstanding oncourt services for the final singles and doubles matches. Junior volunteers ages 10 to 15 were invited to participate in the prestigious event at Barnes Tennis Center.
Ashley Kratzer of Newport Beach was the Girls’ 18s singles champion defeating Kelly Chen from Cerritos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, in an exciting match. In the Girls’ 18s doubles final, fifth -seeded Taylor Johnson of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, Calif., captured the title with a hard-fought 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over sixth-seeded Hailey Baptiste of Washington D.C., and Ellie Douglas of McKinney, Texas .
In Girls’ 16s action, ninth-seeded Angelica Blake of Boca Raton, Fla., used two late service breaks to win the singles title at the USTA Girls’ 16s National against friend and doubles partner Nikki Redelijk of Windermere, Fla., 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
The call for ballkid help went out to local San Diego junior programs in early summer. Many responded to the request and about two dozen made the team. The ballkid program was organized by USPTA San Diego Division President Conan Lorenzo hosted oncourt instruction at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club. San Diego volunteer trainers were USPTA Elite Pro Tom O’Brien amd ballkid specialist Marcello Hernandez. Volunteer supervision was provided by ballkid parent, Stepanka Hastings, also an All-Conference standout from Grossmont College.
O’Brien and Hernandez had only five veteran ballkids in the group and the rest were first-time participants. Oncourt training included how to send and receive balls, when to rotate, where to stand, and how to look like a “ballkid pro.” Other key factors include understanding the ebb and flow of a tennis match as well as providing towels to players between points.
“We were looking for junior players who could maintain their attention and focus for a good length of time,” said O’Brien, who teaches at both Balboa Tennis Club and the Lawrence Jewish Community Center. “That’s hard to do when you’re 12. It helps if the kids understood tennis. They did an outstanding job and their efforts added a professional flair to the tournament.”
Special thanks to J. Fred Sidhu, who contributed to this story.