By Curt Yeomans
Erin Streeter turned to tennis four years ago when she wanted an "unusual" sport to replace gymnastics in her life.
"I just didn't know how to play it [tennis], and I hadn't heard much about it before then," Streeter said. "That appealed to me, so I decided I wanted to learn more about tennis."
Streeter, 12, of Locust Grove, now plays tennis year round, and practices eight to 10 hours per week. She is one of 12 area youths who participate in a "High Performance" tennis class on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the Clayton County Tennis Center in Jonesboro.
Several of the students in the class are on high school tennis teams, or play in amateur tennis leagues, and are used to playing tournament-style tennis, said instructor Larry Graham. On Tuesday, only Streeter, and Graham's daughter, Taylor, were present for tennis class.
"Many of my students had to play at matches with their high school teams," Larry Graham said. "A couple of other students injured themselves in tournaments recently, and can't practice right now."
The class, which includes children between the ages of 5 and 17 who are more advanced in the game, is one of several tennis classes offered at the center. Graham, who has taught tennis for more than 25 years, also teaches beginning- and advanced-level tennis to adults, and he teaches at a summer camp which is offered by the Clayton County Tennis Center.
The center also offers beginner and intermediate classes for children and adults, including a class for children as young as 3 and 4.
"The thing about tennis is it's year round, not seasonal like football or basketball," Graham said. "Tennis is a skill sport. Whereas other sports are more physical, it's your proficiency level which sets you apart in tennis. It's like playing the piano. At first, you're just banging keys and making noise, but if you keep practicing, you'll get better."
Taylor Graham, Larry's daughter and one of his "High Performance" students, said she likes playing tennis because she is distracted from the rest of the world when she is on the court. The younger Graham said she has played tennis since she was 3, and participates in a fall tennis league.
"Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a different world when I play tennis," she said. "When I play tennis, it's different because I don't have other things bothering me. I'm focused on what I'm doing on this court."
Most courses at the tennis center take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and range in cost from $12 per person for "Cardio Tennis," to $90 for six-week beginning and intermediate courses for adults. The youth classes range in price from $20 per day for the "High Performance" class, to $75 for a four-week intermediate level "All Stars" class.
April 4 is the registration deadline for the next six-week classes, and April 18 is the deadline for the next session of four-week classes. The tennis center is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m., to 9 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m., to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m., to 6 p.m.
"Enrollment stays pretty consistent for the advanced classes, because those students are pretty serious about their training," Graham said. "Usually the beginner-level classes are popular in the spring and summer months when it's warm, and then when the weather gets a little iffy in the colder months, the enrollment starts to dip."