Youth the focus at weekend tennis tournament | SteamboatToday.com

Youth the focus at weekend tennis tournament

— The annual Steamboat Tennis Association tournament, which begins Friday at Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, is largely meant to raise money for young players and to keep the juniors program at the center going strong and filled with athletes.

Actually play in the tournament, however, and one begins to wonder if maybe those kids are getting a too much help, said Bo Stemple, a board member with STA.

"Five, six, seven years ago, when you saw a junior on your bracket, you thought, 'walkover,'" Stempel said, laughing. "It's no so much like that any more. They hit so much harder than us old guys. We try to hit around them, but they're so much quicker than we are."

Fortunately, as much as there can always be a larger purpose in sports, there truly is one that stands out from the STA tournament, and for many players, that's worth white-knuckled showdowns with some young players who might just be too good to handle.

"The fundraising from this tournament goes directly to the juniors program, directly to supporting the high school team," said Bill Conway, head pro at the Tennis Center. "Our youth programs we have and the level we've managed to reach is not possible without this event."

The tournament is composed of 163 entries and 117 individual players. That includes 21 juniors players, too, the very athletes the tournament is meant to help.

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Organizers said it will help those players in plenty of ways, much of that help coming through a silent auction, a Sunday night dinner event and a live auction.

Everything from a snowmobile tour guided by Steamboat Springs High School girls tennis coach John Aragon to a chairlift chair will be up for grabs in the auctions.

The tournament begins at 2:30 p.m. Friday and wraps up mid-afternoon Sunday with the final division championships.

The silent auction will end at noon Sunday.

The goal is to help young players grow into regular players, lovers of the sport. Organizers said the funds cover about 1/3 of the high school boys and girls teams' budgets, $6,000 to $7,000, and help fund the center's juniors programs.

It will also fund other programs and initiatives, such as the purchase of a second athletic wheelchair to allow athletes with disabilities to take to the courts.

"We go to every PE class and introduce every child in Routt County, including South Routt and Hayden, to the sport of tennis," Stempel said. "It's amazing how often we'll see a kid who's never picked up a racket, and, 'Wow, this kid is super. He's going to be great.'"

The effort also includes two free annual clinics for juniors players and plenty of scholarship and fund-matching programs, all designed with one goal in mind: growing youth tennis in the region.

"It all comes back to this tournament, this weekend and this fundraising," Conway said. "The value of this tournament is not in the victories or the losses, but in the benefit to our community and our youth."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9