Pint-sized courts for pint-sized players

ARLINGTON -- Like youth baseball and soccer, tennis is beginning to offer courts designed for its smallest players.

This weekend, the Arlington Tennis Center began work on a $300,000 project to add six 36-foot tennis courts for youth players under age 10. The smaller courts, funded largely by grants, will allow the public facility to host state and national tournaments for 10-and-under players, bringing revenue to the city, as well as expand its youth, teen and adult tennis classes, parks officials said.

Size-appropriate courts will allow students to enjoy the game more and feel as if they are making strides in master-ing their technique, said Gary Packan, parks assistant director.

"Kids that age in T-ball play on a smaller field with a tee as opposed to playing on a Texas Rangers-size ball field," Packan said. "A full-size tennis court is a huge playing surface for a kid that is 8 years old and learning tennis."

Since 2008, the center has taught more than 3,500 students through its QuickStart pro-gram, in which players ages 4 through 10 learn the game using smaller racquets and low-compression tennis balls that don't bounce as fast or high as traditional tennis balls, said Sheryl Osborn, the center's facility manager.

Now students in the program will have their own permanent courts instead of having to use sections of full-size, 60-foot tennis courts that are marked off with tape to create smaller surfaces, she said.

Construction of the youth courts, on the center's south side, is expected to be complete by September.

Funding was provided by a $100,000 grant from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, a $50,000 grant by the United States Tennis Association and about $150,000 in city natural gas well revenue, Osborn said.

This year, the association required 36-foot courts instead of full-size courts for all sanctioned tournaments and junior leagues for kids under 10. The change is designed to "right-size" the game's courts and equipment to make it more likely that kids will "have fun, return to the sport and continue to improve," the association's website says.

Ken McAllister, the association's Texas executive director, applauded Arlington for its investment in youth tennis.

"The yellow tennis ball bounces about right for a person who is close to 6 feet tall but way over the head for a little one. It's the same thing with a court," McAllister said. "A 6-footer can cover a full-size tennis court, but for a 6- to-10 year-old, that is a little daunting and overwhelming."

Stacy Mitchell of Arlington says the smaller courts will help Cambry, her 8-year-old daughter. Cambry has participated in QuickStart for two years.

"It's not one size fits all," Mitchell said.

"It's going to help kids stay interested and not feel like they are chasing a ball that is going over their head all the time. I'm glad they are making the commitment to the kids."

Freeing up the full-size courts will also allow the center to expand classes for teens and adults, Osborn said. About 100,000 people use the Arlington Tennis Center each year.

Susan Schrock,