Orlando to play what???

Wilson-Logo-150COURTIA WORTH, PPTA
Director of Tennis & Platform Tennis, Hartford Golf Club
OCTOBER 6, 2010
ORLANDO, FL

APTA Clinic & Exhibition at The VillagesYou are familiar with those moments that don’t feel quite right. Well arriving in Orlando, Florida with no golf clubs in tow, but instead a Wilson backpack filled with platform balls and racquets, was certainly one of them!

Orlando to teach platform tennis? You have to be kidding! Everyone knows it is a Yankee winter sport conjuring up visions of frigid temperatures, snow ,lots of hats and gloves and gathering in a “Warm-up Hut.” Get ready sports fans, there is a whole new world out there. Grade level courts are being introduced across the southern part of the country changing the face of the game. Judging from the soft resilience of the court, which I found very forgiving in our fifth hour of demonstrations and teaching, this is going to become popular in the north as well. I look forward to the thought of playing our beloved sport all year around, but I digress.

Mark Fischl tapped me to go to The Villages, a retirement community of some 80,000 near Orlando where 6 new courts were generating quite a lot of play. Mark and three other top notch male players had gone to Orlando to inaugurate the opening at Sea Breeze Recreation facility and were welcomed by a crowd of 600. Speaking of “not quite right” that would be me for my initial response to those numbers. Slightly panicked by the specter of paddle courts surrounded by spectators 6 deep hour after hour, my first remark was, “How many came in wheelchairs and walkers? How many came because there was nothing else to do and how many actually want court time???

How rude, how wrong and how quickly I was humbled! The crowd of over 125 could not have been more fit and athletic and, excuse me, could only stay an hour because there was golf to be played, volunteer work schedules to be met and whether it was team rowing on the lake, polo ponies, tap dancing, bridge, mahjong, soft ball leagues and who knows what else, everyone sped off to their next appointment. – Lesson learned about preconceived notions!

The response to the APTA’s first foursome to The Villages was overwhelming and they inspired and displayed Platform tennis at its best. But hey, who is kidding who? These are seniors after all and it made sense to let our new southern enthusiasts see the game at a slightly “slower,” more accessible pace and provide them with four seniors of an age and mobility level to which they could at least relate. Plus, of course, I was eager to get some female role models in the 60 plus realm on their horizon. So the APTA launched a second squad: Marie Minnick, my mentor who has been teaching 40 plus years; Doug Barrow, elegant tennis & paddle player (who carried me to a Gold in National Mixed 60’s and a Silver in the 50’s); and Paul Wallack, the experienced youngster of our group just teasing that 60’s line & author of Paddle 101 now in The Villages teaching handbook. The four of us had the privilege of dishing it out to the most receptive, enthusiastic audience any of us have ever encountered.

The Villages Clinic & ExhititionWe first worked with “volunteer” instructors who qualify because of they are slightly more familiar and experienced with the game and are willing to coach novices & organize league play several times a week. We started with the fundamentals: some warm up jogging & stretching and then literally demonstrated a proper warm up, from starting two up and two back, asking if your opponent wants more screens, taking serves, etc. Experienced paddle players take these basics for granted, but they appreciated the guidance.

We then “demo-ed” a set, including a tie breaker at their request. All four of us slowed it down a bit and talked a lot as we played, explaining why we were taking the net or both going back when we couldn’t get a lob out of the air. We called EVERY ball, would stop and discuss positioning (the infamous thirds and who, in fact, IS IN THE MIDDLE?!?) and reviewed the pros and cons of particular shot selection. Because Paul was a lefty, Marie was a trooper in the backhand corner. She displayed time and again how she earned the name ”Mighty Mouse,” showing what getting low and not spilling champagne off your paddle tray meant in terms of getting height on the lobs. Paul and Doug kept the ball in play so we all looked pretty splendid out there and gave them the sense a point in Platform could go on for quite sometime. Throughout the demo, the crowd would fire questions and we responded as we played creating quite the dialogue. They cheered, they booed, they placed bets. Laughter, awe, curiosity, and confusion were all present.

With Residents on the LinksAfter each demo, everyone was eager to get on the courts and we four instructors fell into our teaching routines based on the level of players at hand. Doug had everyone mastering a slice serve with a lower toss, Marie was doing the polka to demonstrate scissoring back for overheads, Paul was calmly coping with our one injury where all ended well, and I was singing “Hit the Road Jack” to get players to the net after their serve. An extra bonus… no one was standing around getting cold while waiting his or her turn! Collectively, I don’t think you could find four teachers having more fun sharing their enthusiasm for platform with wide-eyed, “can’t get enough” students who were ever so young at heart.

We, indeed, were the inspired ones! !

The other instructors chime in:

Our visit was quite positive. The energy and attitude of players and staff was great. The eagerness to participate and learn was infectious. Being among the mature people at the Villages paddle courts, I appreciated the coolness of our October morning, and the not too hard courts. There will be lots of enjoyment to be had in the "off baking" hours of the early morning and into the evening (perhaps under lights).March on! -- Doug Barrow

Spending Time With ResidentsThis was an amazing experience that highlighted what one determined person can accomplish. Joe Russo brought the fun sport we play to so many people regardless of climate or age! As the ancient one of our group I really appreciated the enthusiasm shown by those in attendance, especially those who commented “it must keep you young” Oh yes it does! -- Marie Minnick

I was very impressed by first by sheer size and energy of The Villages. The residents came out in force and displayed exuberance to our being there to help them understand and improve their ability to play paddle. -- Paul Wallack

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