The Belen High tennis program offers youngest players valuable experience

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On June 13, Gabriella Jaramillo ran up to a clothespin, moved it along a line, and ran back to where she started.

She wasn’t hanging laundry; she was keeping score in a tennis practice match.

But to some, it might be just as surprising to see Jaramillo engaged in either laundry or tennis, considering she’s only 5 years old. She’s one of the youngest players in the Belen High summer youth tennis program, which teaches the fundamentals and basics of the sport.

While the attention spans and mechanics of some of the players are limited, the patience and encouragement from the teenagers and adult staff seem to have no bounds. The program uses five mini-courts to train the young players, several of whom are as young as Jaramillo or slightly older, for competition in an Albuquerque league and an end-of-season tournament.

BHS coaches Gary and Regina Elkins and Barbara Grega run the program. They get a great deal of help from BHS players, such as Esperanza Herrera and Gilbert Devlin, and former players, such as Ale Padilla.

“We just try to get them to learn the basics,” said Herrera, a Lady Eagle junior-to-be. “And we want them to be able to compete in matches.”

The Belen group travels to several Albuquerque-area sites, such as the Tennis Center of Albuquerque, for matches. The season wraps with seeded tournaments the weekend of July 22.

At the June 13 practice, the staff struggled with the typical obstacles one might expect to find with athletes in this age group. Some players took giant, comical swings; others waved desperately at an errant shot, and still others were tranquilly oblivious, playing with their brightly colored rackets as a serve bounced past them, unnoticed.

To add to the casual atmosphere, one parent even had an MP3 player at the practice, providing background music in the form of Ronnie James Dio and Credence Clearwater Revival.

But amid all the fun, there are some skills being developed. The June 13 practice featured some flashes of brilliance in the form of solid returns, quick-reaction volleys and an overhead smash or two.

Some players practice with regular tennis balls, while others use foam “Nerf”-type balls. Clothespins are clipped to the edge of the nets to help keep score.

Kenny Trujillo, age 6, who has already played on tennis, baseball, basketball and soccer teams in his short time on the planet, said the practices offer drills that improve each player’s skills.

“We try to hit targets,” he said.

Trujillo knows that practice isn’t quite as much fun as competing.

“I like the matches,” he said.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.