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Tremendous turnout for city’s annual summer tennis camp

On the first day of the City of Vicksburg’s annual youth tennis camp, program director Rick Shields said he figured the response would go one of two ways.

“I knew we were going to have two eventualities,” Shields said. “Folks were going to be afraid of the virus and not come out, or folks were going to be happy as heck to get out.”

The answer, most definitely, was the latter.

A total of 51 children ages 5-18 — nearly double the normal amount — showed up for the first day of the camp on June 15 at Halls Ferry Park. The number was up to 65 a couple of days later. The overwhelming response has led Shields to restructure the camp to accommodate demand and put a smile on his face as Vicksburg’s sports scene awakens from its COVID-19 induced lockdown.

“This is the best turnout we’ve ever had,” Shields said. “I think a lot of it is because people have been pent up and they wanted to get outside. The CDC rated activities, and tennis got rated as one of the best places you can be as far as the virus is concerned. I think some of the parents know that, so they’ve got them out here.”

The free tennis camp is a summer staple in Vicksburg. It runs each weekday morning through late July when schools prepare to reopen, and normally draws two or three dozen children per day.

When the large crowd showed up this year, Shields said his initial reaction was one of dread as he contemplated how to handle them all with a smaller staff. Because of budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he had fewer instructors available to handle more campers. Thankfully, he said, he was able to recruit a couple of volunteers to help with the workload.

Campers were split into groups of seven or eight and spread across Halls Ferry Park’s courts.

Shields said he also had to reconfigure the schedule. Campers ages 5-10 now are welcome on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 to 10 a.m.

Campers over 10 years old go on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.

A team tennis session for more experienced players is also held on Monday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon.

“We ended up cutting it down to three days instead of five days and cutting the groups in half. The COVID cut our work staff a little bit because we don’t have nearly as much money as we had before. Otherwise, it’s a good little program,” Shields said.

Shields said anyone attending the camp should bring plenty of water and a snack. The water fountains at the park are not available to use because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He’s also optimistic that the kids leaving the house simply to find something to do after three months in quarantine will stick with the sport once the camp is over next month.

“This is our feeder program,” Shields said. “If this is our feeder program, that means tennis is probably looking good for the future because most of the kids come out and they stay out. Many of those will be back out in the fall program.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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