published Saturday, January 7th, 2012

GRIPS tennis starting locally

Manker Patten is teaming up with Baylor School to start a local version of the GRIPS tennis program, a nine-week instructional camp designed to improve the play of junior players throughout the country.

Manker Patten pro Kevin Donovan and his boss Ned Caswell, also the Baylor director of tennis, are helping run the clinic. Aaron Fox of the GRIPS program is flying in from Southern California to help instruct as well.

There will be an open house this afternoon at Manker Patten from 1 to 3 and another at Baylor from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Any boy or girl ages 5-18 who comes will go through a free placement test to determine his or her starting level for the clinic.

Players will be placed by color, with white striped being the lowest level. Improvement will lead to other colors. The highest level achievable is a black belt, which Donovan said no player has ever achieved -- anywhere.

"This is just something that we've been wanting to do for a long time," Donovan said. "We've been trying to find something we could do that could make us legitimately different from everybody else in the state as far as tennis. It's also the best thing financial-wise, because we're all going to be one team now."

There will be 11 certified instructors. That's in addition to Fox, who has taught the game full-time for 12 years after his career at Drake University.

"If anybody wants to come take the test, whether you've played for years or are interested in starting tennis, you're welcome," Donovan said. "This is not just a clinic for players that have already been playing for years."

The motivation for the camp, he stressed, is the idea that players and instructors are going to be held accountable for the players' success.

"It brings all of us together because we all have to be on the same page," Donovan said. "There will be a big color board and kids will be able to see what level they're on. It combines the aspect of tennis as well as a cool way of learning.

"Sometimes when a parent takes a kid to a camp, they'll watch and it's just complete chaos, but we're going to make sure these kids are learning. We want parents to know that they're not wasting money. It's going to be worth both their time and their money to come out here."

Caswell echoed Donovan's excitement about the program.

"This is the biggest thing that has happened to junior tennis in a long time," he said. "It's an exciting thing to do. We hope it'll bring an energy, especially with Manker Patten and Kevin and his leadership in starting this junior program."

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