Cher Sandmire always figured tennis wouldn’t be an option for her because she has a pair of ailing rotator cuffs.
Then she tried last summer.
“And I can play,” she said.
Sandmire joined a social tennis group this spring through the Idaho Tennis Association to broaden her playing opportunities. The ITA has six weekly groups playing in the current six-week session in Boise.
The groups are filled with an assortment of new and renewed players who are drawn to the non-competitive setting and the chance to play with a variety of people at their ability level.
“You can start anywhere and play until you’re old,” Sandmire said. “And keep getting good exercise.”
That’s just what Bob Ewing, the adult programs coordinator at the ITA, envisioned when he started the social tennis program last year. It’s an initiative designed to grow the sport.
“I’ve been playing for 45 years,” Ewing said. “It’s a lifetime sport. I just want to have a legacy that when these guys are playing 25 years from now they’ll say, ‘I remember Bob got me started, God rest his soul — we miss Bob, but I’m still playing tennis.’ ”
Ewing supervises the 90-minute weekly sessions. The ITA provides the balls. Ewing splits the players into groups to play doubles or singles, depending on how many make it that day. If the numbers don’t work out, he’ll join in to balance the teams. After a few games, the matchups are changed.
“We’re out there to have fun and help each other get better,” Loretta Jones said. “That, to me, is what makes it fun. It’s always fun to win. It just adds a little more fun to it. But it’s not competitive.”
Ewing has 76 players — mostly women — in the program during this session, about double the turnout from the first session last year. He has 24 beginning women split between morning and evening sessions on Mondays, 28 women who have a little more experience split between two sessions on Tuesdays and 12 more in the slightly experienced category Wednesday. Twelve men play Thursday evenings.
“My passion is really having a place for beginners to play without threat,” Ewing said, “because so many of them — you want to play, you played years ago and you want to play, but it’s hard to find somebody to go out and play with. ... They can play here or they can also call each other and have some people to play at their same level.”
Players in the Monday morning group include:
▪ Jones, 66, a former Boise Racquet & Swim Club member trying to get back into the game. “I love tennis,” she said. “I’ve loved it all my life. I met lifelong friends through tennis. It’s good exercise, but you don’t realize you’re exercising because you’re having so much fun. Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m back to doing what I really love to do, and that’s play tennis.”
▪ Heidi Naylor was interested in tennis for many years but didn’t have the time to play while raising young children. She started playing with a friend 15 years ago — they play for dinner — and got involved in some ITA activities to improve. “It’s super-friendly,” she said. “It’s no pressure, but you get to learn and improve. And it’s scheduled, so it really gets you out here.”
▪ Lori Hardisty has played tennis with her husband for 13 years. She hopes to expand her game through the social tennis program so she can play more easily with her husband, who is a league player. Hardisty’s friends who played with her when she was younger no longer have time because they have young children; her children are grown. “This is much better” than playing with her husband, she said. “There’s none of this, ‘I just told you not to do this ... .’ ”
▪ Bee Le, another newcomer to tennis. Le is learning the game quickly — and was all smiles during last week’s play. She started playing for the exercise. “Tennis is a good sport for everybody,” she said. “You can play when you are old. There’s no age limit.”
Many of last year’s social tennis players have moved into leagues this year, Ewing said. About 15 returned to the program.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t think they can (play) because they’re just afraid,” he said. “This is a good, safe place. ... They can go (competitive) if they want to, but they just don’t have to.”
Want to play social tennis?
The Idaho Tennis Association’s next six-week session begins May 2. The cost is $31 (plus processing fee) and doesn’t require a USTA membership. Registration is available at idtennis.com/idtasocialtennis. Sessions are scheduled during the day and evening on various days of the week.