Marin tennis camp aims to bridge youth ‘activity gap’

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  • Kiyah Freeman, 13, chases a ball as Summer Maunder, 12, looks on during a tennis summer camp in Sausalito on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • Camp counselor Tara Sridharan throws a ball at a girl...

    Camp Counselor Tara Sridharan throws a ball to a Play Marin girl during a tennis summer camp in Sausalito, Calif., Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. Sridharan, a tennis player from Branson School, started the camp in partnership with Play Marin. With the help of volunteer coaches, she teaches the children of Play Marin tennis skills during the two-week camp. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • Tennis camp attendees Jennifer Bryan, 12, left, of Mill Valley,...

    Tennis camp participants Jennifer Bryan, 12, left, of Mill Valley, and Luna Barnes, 13, of Novato, gather balls between drills in Sausalito, Calif., Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Alan Dep /Marine Independent Journal)

  • Camp coach Tara Sridharan, in the foreground, runs sprints with Play Marin...

    Camp coach Tara Sridharan, foreground, conducts sprints with attendees at the Play Marin tennis camp in Sausalito, Calif., Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Tennis racket in hand, Luna Barnes paused for a few minutes on the public courts in Sausalito Monday to reflect on her morning enjoyment.

“It’s fun to learn to play tennis,” Luna, 13, of Novato, a seventh grader at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera. “I’ve played tennis before – but this way I can play against new people.”

Luna was one of 25 boys and girls aged 7 to 13 at a two-week summer tennis camp hosted this month by Paul Austin, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Play Marin of Marin City, and Tara Sridharan, a college tennis player at Branson. Ross School.

Two one-hour sessions – one for the older ones from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a second for the younger ones from 11 a.m. to noon – were scheduled from Monday to Thursday last week and until Thursday this week. The girls met on Mondays and Wednesdays; boys on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sridharan, 16, a junior, and six other tennis players from Branson and Redwood High School serve as volunteer coaches for the camp. Tennis rackets and balls were donated by the community, Sridharan said. She brought orange cones to score strategic points on the courts.

Players ranged from beginners to advanced.

“The underlying idea is that kids are playing tennis and having fun, they want it and they want to do it in the future,” Austin said.

Play Marin also organizes kayaking, surfing, sailing and lacrosse outings for kids and teens so they can experience activities they wouldn’t normally be able to access, Austin said. About 85% to 90% of attendees are from Marin City, but there are also young people from elsewhere in the county, he added.

“We seek to bridge the activity gap so that students can understand that everything in Marin is open to them,” he added.

Sridharan said she got involved in the camp project because of Play Marin’s mission. It’s about providing “inclusion and access to after-school activities and athletics for children from diverse and socioeconomic backgrounds in Marin County,” she said.

Tennis, in particular, “has a reputation for being exclusive and only for the wealthy,” Sridharan said. She said she wanted to help open up the sport to all young people in Marin.

“As a woman of color living in Marin, I am committed to expanding new opportunities for underserved children and families and making our community more inclusive,” Sridharan said. “Marin high schools could really benefit from having more students of color on their tennis teams.”

Austin said kids who are introduced to a sport like tennis early on will be more likely to pursue it in high school. Playing team sports at school has been shown to promote success in school and in life in general, he said.

“I have fun playing with my friends,” Summer Maunder, 12, of Marin City, a seventh-grader at Marin Country Day School, said on the courts Monday. “I played tennis on and off for five years, but it’s fun to play with new people.”

Summer said she also participated in surfing, rowing and lacrosse through Play Marin.

“This program gives me a lot of opportunities to do different things,” she said.

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