THATCHER — Tennis is the fifth most popular sport in the world, beaten out by soccer, cricket, basketball and hockey, and beating out America’s favorite sport — football — by four spots and baseball by three.
Tennis’ popularity appears to be on the rise here in the Gila Valley, as Thatcher’s Gila Valley Tennis Camp indicates.
Campers have come from all over the Gila Valley, and even as far away as Tucson and Mesa. Thatcher has built a strong presence in its conference for at least the past decade going nine years straight now of an undefeated regular season. It has a strong 2A state tournament presence as well, producing champions in singles, doubles and as a team.
Whatever Thatcher is doing right, the tennis community wants in on it.
Thatcher tennis head coach and camp leader Chris Cook said, “We started this camp six years ago with 20 kids. This year, we have 94, I think. This is the most we’ve had. It’s awesome. We like playing tennis, and we want other people to enjoy playing tennis. It’s half of our motivation. The other half is we’re trying to prepare kids for when they get into high school and they’re ready to go and compete. The more we can introduce kids to different skills and the love of the game, the better.
With so many campers to take care of, it’s expanded beyond a one-coach show to include other local coaches and champion-level graduates.
“This is probably the best group of coaches I’ve had,” Cook said. “It’s hard to teach a lot of skills to a hundred kids, but if you can teach them a few things and love it, you’ll get a spark, and that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The camp comes with some fun perks, in addition to making great strides in tennis skills. Groups have fun competitions for little prizes, like sodas and other treats. They also do Wimbledon Wednesday, where everyone wears white and the camp serves strawberries and cream.
Polly Evans, who will play tennis for EAC in the 2020 school year, said, “This is my first year coaching. It feels cool. They’ve been learning a lot of the fundamentals, and we’ve been going over them a lot in order to get a good base. It’s been fun to see them improve just from this week. I hope they keep going with it.”
Camper Isaac Palmer, 11, said, “My sister got me into tennis. She taught me a lot. I’m looking forward to playing for Thatcher when I get to high school.”
Dallon Cook recently came back from his mission in Samoa, and he’s hopped right back into the tennis scene. He didn’t have a chance to pick up a racket while out there, but he still has it.
“A lot of our off days, we did service. We’d go to plantations, do farming and get their fields ready, and then we’d go off and sell stuff,” Dallon said. “Our group is doing pretty well. We have the eighth-graders and incoming freshmen. They’ve made a lot of improvements, especially with ground strokes, a little bit of volleying and serving. We’re trying to get the right form. From the beginning until now, even though it’s been just four days, there’s a huge difference. They’re able to hit the balls and keep it in play.”