Walker’s Tiny Tennis is tak­ing off

North Penn Life - - Sports - By Dan Arkans dark­ans@jour­nal­reg­is­ter.com

Har­leysville res­i­dent and Soud­er­ton Area grad­u­ate Jill Walker never thought of her­self as a tennis visionary.

All she knew was that she loved tennis and she loved kids.

It’s just been a con­flu­ence of events that has not only put Walker on the map but ahead of the curve.

Be­fore the rSTA started with its cur­rent 10 and un­der grass roots move­ment, which in­cludes foam balls and smaller courts, there was Walker and her idea — a tiny tennis cen­ter for chil­dren 2-to-6 years-old.

“The tim­ing was so ironic,” said Walker, who also coaches the Methac­ton boys tennis team in the spring. “A lot of peo­ple think I came along af­ter the rn­der-10 tennis and it wasn’t that way. The rSTA is push­ing 10 and un­der courts left and right. A lot of peo­ple are on board now.”

Walker, though, did have a vi­sion — a tiny tennis cen­ter. While most teach­ing pros didn’t want to in­struct the pee-wees, Walker al­ways loved the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I was work­ing at a tennis club and the pros didn’t want to deal with the kids,” she said. “One of the students’ par­ents owned a preschool and I ran a tiny tennis camp for them. I thought, ‘I need a cen­ter.’”

She built it and lit­er­ally they came. At the end of 2009, she found a lo­ca­tion at Store Road in Skip­pack Vil­lage for the Tiny Tennis Cen­ter. Now, there are al­most not enough hours in the day for Walker to teach all her pupils and still give lessons to older students out of other tra­di­tional tennis clubs.

“A lot of it was word of mouth,” said Walker, who played col­le­giately at Ge­or­gia South­ern. “The key is work­ing with mom’s groups, events in Skip­pack. Be­fore I was even open, I got 200 names from Skip­pack Days.”

When en­ter­ing the Tiny Tennis Cen­ter it is a lit­tle bit of a slice of heaven for tennis en­thu­si­asts. First, there is a play room where chil­dren can read books, draw pic­tures and just be toddlers. Some­times, Walker even de­liv­ers treats and juice to the kids there. The next stop inside is the Tiny Tennis Shop, which has tiny rac­quets, tiny balls and all sorts of tennis ac­ces­sories.

“Peo­ple come in and won­der what it is,” Walker said. “Is it a tennis store? Are you just giv­ing in­for­ma­tion on tennis? No, you need to go up­stairs.”

Ah, up­stairs. Walker loves the look on chil­dren’s faces for the first time once walk­ing up the stairs, which is a room that is a tennis court. The size is 20 feet by 12 feet, just enough space for a tiny tennis court. That’s where the tennis re­ally be­gins for the young­sters. There, kids learn to play with chil­dren’s blar­ing mu­sic in the back­round.

They not only use foam balls, but bal­loons, pad­dles, bad­minton rac­quets. In fact, a trip to the toy store for Walker is just an­other chance to stock up for her cen­ter.

“This fa­cil­ity is built for Small­town, rSA,” Walker said. “You don’t need a lot of space. It screams kids. The mar­ket is not to tennis peo­ple. It is to fam­i­lies who are look­ing for ac­tiv­i­ties for their kids. I’m look­ing for that typ­i­cal Amer­i­can fam­ily. A lot of peo­ple say to me I didn’t know my kids could play tennis. I’m try­ing to bring tennis to the peo­ple.”

Walker has not stopped with one Tiny Tennis Cen­ter. Con­struc­tion has be­gun on an­other one which will be built in Lim­er­ick, shar­ing a space with Golf rSA at The Shops in Lim­er­ick.

There will be two courts on that site — one the size of a reg­u­la­tion 10 and un­der rSTA court — which is 36-by-18 feet. The en­tire cen­ter will be on one floor and it will be a great space for both golf and tennis fans. The big­ger space will al­low Walker to stick with kids un­til age 8 and then guide them into the world of ju­nior tour­na­ments.

“I don’t like the typ­i­cal tennis en­vi­ron­ment,” Walker said. “There’s just so much you can do with sports and young kids. It’s big to start them young in tennis. Soc­cer they start at 3 and stick them out there. I want them to know it’s pos­si­ble.”

Walker hasn’t stopped there. With the help of high school friend Mag­gie Lon­gacre, the two launched the Har­leysville Tennis Club on Satur­days from 1-4 p.m. at Soud­er­ton High School’s aux­il­iary gym. There, mini­in­struc­tion is fol­lowed by point play and match play. Age groups are r-6, r-8, r-10, r-12. It is team tennis where chil­dren can have com­pet­i­tive play. There’s more in­for­ma­tion on­line at www.harleysvil­leten­nis.org.

“If we can ed­u­cate peo­ple that any­one can play tennis that’s my goal,” Walker said. “The kids get ex­cited to put on a jersey. It will be guided. We get them right down to play­ing a match. At this age you can ei­ther build them up or tear them down. It’s im­por­tant for them to learn how to lose.”

Walker, who has taught pro­fes­sion­ally for sev­eral years and was a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Babo­lat re­cently, isn’t do­ing this alone. How could any­one re­ally? Af­ter ven­tur­ing out by her­self, she has a staff of five other teach­ers who will help her ad­just to an­other Tiny Tennis Cen­ter.

“I’ve felt over time I’ve found good peo­ple,” Walker said.

“Two in­struc­tors have el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion de­grees. It’s more im­por­tant to me that they are kid-cer­ti­fied than have a tennis back­ground. You have to like kids.”

And if you think Walker will stop at two Tiny Tennis Cen­ters, clearly you haven’t met her.

“My goal is to have Tiny Tennis cen­ters all over the coun­try,” she said.

Walker de­scribes the Tiny Tennis Cen­ter as a tiny place for big time tennis fun in the Skip­pack Vil­lage. There are lessons, mo­tor skill de­vel­op­ment and fit­ness for chil­dren start­ing at age 2 and that is not a mis­print.

“Now, I’m with kids who started out with me, we’re on a big court and their strokes are great,” Walker said. “How you treat them, how you work with them is so key. I’ve learned there’s not a lot for a tod­dler to do. The par­ents need some­thing and want some­thing. I can’t tell you how many calls I took about if it’s too young for my 2 year-old to play tennis. It’s a great in­tro­duc­tion to the sport. Tennis is a hard sport. I’ve got­ten some kids who start at 2 and they’re out­side by the time they’re 4.”

Walker may have found her niche in the tennis world, but her mis­sion has not changed over time.

“I need to bring tennis to the kids,” she said.

“My per­sonal love is the kids.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on Walker and her tiny tennis cen­ters, visit her on­line at www.tinyten­nis­cen­ter.com or reach her by phone at 610-680-6300.

For Mont­gomery Me­dia / GE­OFF PATTON

Jill Walker at Tiny Tennis in Skip­pack with students, five-year-old Made­line Donato and her sis­ter Kaelyn, three.

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