Diane Baker passes tennis off to youngsters | NevadaAppeal.com

Diane Baker passes tennis off to youngsters

Dave Price

Diane Baker well remembers playing tennis when she was growing up in Carson City. There have been a few changes in the past three decades, but one constant is that Baker is still out on the courts, only now as a teacher passing the sport on to others in hopes they will enjoy it as much as she has through the Carson Tennis Club’s “Tennis for Everyone” summer program.

The series of clinics has been held through the summer and will be extended into next week at Centennial Park. Classes will be held Monday through Friday with three sessions each day – 4 to 6 year olds from 8:30 to 9 a.m., beginners from 9 to 10 a.m. and intermediate players from 10 to 11. A drop-in fee of $5 per day will be charged.

“Some of the mom’s showed an interest and we had a partial staff to do it, so we decided to throw in one more week. It’ll be fun, just to get them out to hit tennis balls and get interested in the game,” Baker said.

One of the young participants on Thursday, 13-year-old Mark Sinnott, has attended every session since the clinics began on June 14.

“We’ve had quite a few of those. They’ll come all summer long, so that’s six weeks of tennis for them, and seven including next week,” Baker said. “We’d hate to lose this program because I think the kids really love coming out.

The “Little Pro” group for 4- to 6-year-olds is particularly enjoyable.

“It is fun with the kids. We start them at 4 to 6, and the middle session, we had like seven of them and it was so fun. They’re cute out there,” Baker said.

An emphasis is placed on having fun, she added.

“You make it fun so the kids come back,” Baker said. “The older kids we try to teach them a little more skill, and actually we drilled with these guys today with the same drill we use with the high school kids because a lot of this program feeds into our high school program. Pat (Houlihan, Carson High boys coach) and I last year had more than 60 kids in the high school program.”

Carson High’s girls have been successful in past under Baker, including a trip to the Northern 4A Regional Tournament semifinals last October. Baker has put in two stints as a coach for the Senators – 20 years total between the two.

“We’re not just a feeder program for the high school, we’re trying to show the kids that it’s a game you can play forever,” Baker said. “You don’t have to be that great at it. Even the kids on the high school team, we try to teach them that it’s a lifelong sport.”

Natalie Rogers, who advanced to the regional tournament’s singles singles semifinals and is now headed to Brigham Young University-Hawaii, has also been part of the Tennis for Everyone” summer instructional staff along with Steve Constantino, a teacher at new Damonte Ranch High in Reno, and Orion Ashmore, who plays for Bishop Manogue High.

“I luck out with my staff every year,” Baker said. “Without a great staff, we wouldn’t be able to make this go.”

Baker graduated from Carson High in 1975 and went on to play for the University of Nevada in Reno. She also remembers being active with the Carson Tennis Club back in the 1960s.

“I was involved with the club as a junior and then I taught for the club when I was in high school,” she said. “After high school, I went to UNR and played for a couple of years, but it wasn’t anything great,” she said a laugh. He gave me $40 cash one year, he said, ‘Here’s your scholarship.'”

Baker, 47, still plays competitively even after sustaining a back injury in 1994 that ultimately required two surgeries and forced her to retire from coaching.

“I play about 6 tournaments a summer – I play doubles so I have a partner to help me on the other side of the court,” she said with a laugh, “and I play in the adult league. I’m on a (USTA ladies 3.5) team from Sparks, we’re having our playoffs now, and if we win Saturday night, we go to the regionals in Folsom (Calif.).”

In the meantime, Baker is having plenty of fun watching youngsters learn how to play tennis.

“We always give prizes at the end of the sessions,” she said. “We gave those little colored balls. We had a few contests. They love it. They would stay out here all day long trying to hit those targets. They don’t want to go home.”

Note … The Carson Invitational will be held on Aug. 6-8 at Centennial Park. The registration deadline is July 29. Call 882-6136 for tournament information and brochures.

Dave Price can be reached at 881-1220 or at dprice@nevadaappeal.com