USTA provides tennis lessons to children in Orange Park

By Lee Wardlaw [email protected]

ORANGE PARK – For the past seven weeks, 22 children residing in Orange Park have spent the last seven weeks participating in a special program funded by a grant provided by the United States Tennis Association through Orange Park High.

After practicing forehands, backhands, positioning and hand-eye coordination for seven weeks, the crew got together for one final lesson on Wednesday, Nov. 16, for a program-culminating tournament at the Club Continental Tennis Club.

The event provided a family-friendly, community-oriented, and fun way for student-athletes to show off their skills, all while soaking in more skill training from Adam Blackner, the Director of Racquet Sports at Club Continental, and Robert White, Orange Park High teacher and tennis coach, among others, who were all elated to offer local youth additional training at the highly anticipated event.

The tournament concluded a two-month journey of tennis practice that lasted 49 calendar days, ranging from the dog days of summer to the turn of the calendar, beginning the cooler flow of autumn winds.

The students participated in 13 sessions before the program’s de facto “Super Bowl,” which was complete with drinks, snacks and an opening presentation from Lauren Pfanestiel, Community Partnership School Director of Orange Park High.


Pfanestiel said she could immediately detect the effects of the fun in the sun with friends of Orange Park students who participated in the program.

“We have students who are more confident, made friends, and are even planning to join the varsity tennis team this spring. So, we’re certainly excited about this opportunity as we grow. We want to make our tennis team at Orange Park more competitive. We provide coaching and extra hours during the summer for tutoring, college exploration, and allow them to increase their tennis skills. So we’re definitely excited about what the future holds. We can’t wait to continue,” she said.

After students, parents, Club Continental, and community members heard from Pfanestiel, all in attendance made an introduction to their peers, stating their name and number of years of playing experience.

Then, teams of two adults and two students split up, taking charge of the five main courts consisting of the club’s home base shaded under the beautiful palmetto trees and tucked between the streets of the historic neighborhood bordering the St. Johns River.

Pfanestiel also said, “We received a grant from the USTA Foundation to run tennis programs throughout the year for our students. Our goal was to introduce the sport of tennis to a diverse group of young people to make this a lifelong sport for them and increase the engagement of those who can love this sport after they leave this school.”

Expanded learning is the key focus of the Community Partnership Schools Model to improve student attendance, behavior, and course performance. Orange Park implemented the model in 2019 as a partnership alongside Children’s Home Society of Florida, Clay County District Schools, HCA Florida Orange Park Hospital, Palms Medical Group and St. Johns River State College.

Matthew Lovejoy, sophomore and the fifth-ranked student-athlete on the Raiders’ boys’ varsity tennis team, said the program has provided for indispensable improvements in his game as he shoots for a big sophomore season at Orange Park in the spring alongside his dedicated teammates, Austin, Brandon, Michael and John.

Lovejoy, who is entering his second season with the racquet, said White has already helped him with forehands, backhands, serves and all other elements involved with the game.

“I feel like going to practice in the offseason has really helped me maintain my skills. I feel like I’ll be able to pick up right where I left off in the spring,” he said.

As for the event, he, his teammates and his classmates were flattered. He summed it up: “I think it was amazing that we were able to pull this all together.

“Last year, this was a small team that did not have a whole lot of experience. Some were also not experienced at the beginning of the (partnership) program, and they’ve already come a long way. I’m really happy for Coach White, obviously, and I know he’s really happy with how the team has grown.”

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