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Tennis joins other new middle school sports



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Brandon Van Rooyen takes his tennis skills to the court. Photo by P. Van Rooyen (click for larger version)
July 25, 2012 - Lake Orion lesser sports may no longer play second fiddle to the likes of Baseball, Football and Basketball as more and more become present in area middle schools.

It started this year with boys lacrosse, quickly moved to girls lacrosse and now tennis is taking a slice of the sixth through eighth graders.

According to Middle School Tennis Coach Stacy Schock it all started late 2011 when High School Tennis Coach Eric Bracciano told her of the program he wanted to get started in Lake Orion.

"We went though (LOHS Athletic Director) Bill Reiss and (Bracciano) got it all taken care of," she said. "I met with parents and players and we got it going. It was our first year so there were some kinds, but I was impressed with all the help from the parents. They were so loving the idea of having the program for the middle school students as well as a feeder program for the high school allowing their kids to get playing at a younger age."

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All three high schools were involved in the program, as well as all grade and genders. Eight schools competed in their league including St. Clair, Dakota, L'Anse Creuse, Holly and more.

Despite the young age of the program, Schock said the range of skills were wide with some more experienced than the average middle school player. She said the experience was helpful when teaching those that had never held a racket before.

"Some of the kids had prior coaching and some of the kids who were just getting involved got to learn from the more experienced players," said Schock. "Most players played singles and doubles at least for one match and the more experienced kids were very helpful in those players doing that. We even had one parent get an email from another coach complimenting me on how wonderful the team was and about their sportsmanship they displayed during the matches."

16 players joined the tennis team for the first season and despite only 11 playing in a school tournament due to simultaneous school band activities, Schock said she was very proud of the kids. She added that even though the team was down five players, they still managed to hold their own with three players winning medals.

Parent and part-time coach Paul Van Rooyen has a family steeped in the sport and said he's happy that Lake Orion tennis will grow from this program.

"In order to really develop the program, we have to let (kids) start earlier and in tennis especially," said Van Rooyen. "A lot of kids want to play tennis but they get frustrated - it's tricky. There is so much articulation, there is a way to hold the racket, there is a way to stand and it's all individual.

"With good coaching and critical eyes these kids start seeing a real difference and getting that ingrained before they form bad habits will let them be better and appreciate it more."

Van Rooyen's two sons and daughters all play or played tennis, starting with his 2011 graduate daughter to his sixth grade daughter who will join the middle school tennis program in the Spring. He sees it as a family sport and one that he is happy to support. He hopes to see Lake Orion competing against Clarkston by the time his youngest joins the varsity team.

"We really needed this to compete against the big guys," he said. "Hats off to Stacy Schock for what she did for these kids. It is exactly the kind of coaching we need. The kids rally behind her because kids at that age just want want guidance and she gave them that.

"I have great hopes that this thing will develop."

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