By Garry Brown
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - For Jennifer Kolins, the road to a tennis coaching career at Springfield's Western New England University began on her neighborhood playground in Philadelphia.
There, at age seven, she first had the chance to try tennis. Then came the opportunity for proper instruction in the sport, provided by volunteer coaches. She went on from there to play on the United States Youth Games team, followed by high school stardom, then a Division I playing career at the University of Hartford on full scholarship.
Now, in her 19th year at WNE, Kolins does not forget how it all began for her. That's why she will be out there again this summer on the courts at Forest Park and Van Horn, serving as a instructor in youth tennis clinics.
Kolins is one of many volunteers who give time and talent to Moving On Up with Tennis and Learning, a Springfield initiative started in 2017 and still supervised by Pat Murry, president of the Ludlow Tennis Club.
"The point of our endeavor is to reach out to children who normally wouldn't have the opportunity to try tennis, and give them a chance to learn skills of the sport while using real equipment," Murry said.
Moving On Up's teaching corps includes Judy Dixon, a retired University of Massachusetts coach who now plays regularly in USTA-sanctioned Super Seniors Tournaments. As a teenager, she won a national singles championship, leading her to the University of Southern California, where she played No. 1 singles and doubles. She later played pro tennis, including matches at Wimbledon and in the U.S. Open. Her career also included a time on the Virginia Slims Tour, where she played doubles with tennis icon Billie Jean King.
"Working with kids is something I've always wanted to do, but I never had time until I retired from UMass," she said.
In 2017, when Murry first told Dixon about the park clinics, she said, "You've got me - I'm in."
"Clinics like these were the catalyst for me," Kolins said. "They introduce kids to a sport they can play all their lives. And it's important that they have mentors who give back, and inspire young people to believe in themselves."
Volunteer instructors also include Conrad McIntire, pro at the Enfield Tennis Club; Carolyn Slifkin, junior tennis league director at the Ludlow Club, and varsity players from several Western Mass. colleges.
The Springfield program ties in with National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL), a network of 350 youth development organizations that offer free tennis and education programming. NJTL is backed by the United States Tennis Association.
Moving On Up won an award in 2017 as the best NJTL program in New England. It expanded this year, offering clinics during the winter and spring, as a lead-up to the summer instruction sessions. They begin on July 9, and will run through Aug. 2.
The clinics will be offered Mondays and Wednesdays at Van Horn from 9:30 a.m. to 11, and at Forest Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the same time schedule. The free instructions are available to boys and girls in the 6-16 age group.
"We supply racquets for anyone wanting to participate," Murry said.
The clinics incorporate general techniques for forehand, backhand, volley, serve and overhead as well as footwork drills and fun games. Each day will highlight a stroke while building on the prior day. The last 20 minutes will be devoted to supervised play for fun games that help the participants learn tennis scoring and the value of sportsmanship.
"We also can be found at the Springfield YMCA's Camp Weber in West Springfield," Murry said. "We started there on June 25 and will be there through Aug. 23, one day a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m."
During the past winter, students at the Springfield Y participated in a Moving On Up program, learning tennis skills under the direction of Eric Cestero. They also were made aware of resume building, job preparedness, and other educational components taught by Jeanne Powers, the Y's education director.
At the completion of the Y program, participants traveled to Western New England University to take part in a clinic featuring members of coach Kolins' varsity teams. They also had the opportunity to take part in WNE's observance of Girls and Women in Sports Day.
"We look forward to what the future will bring for Moving On Up," Murry said. "We have a strong and caring Board of Directors. whose members have a lot to do with the success of this program. Our volunteers and supporters make everything we do possible, and always make it better."
For more information, visit movingonupwithtennis.org