Marin tennis camp aims to close youth ‘activity gap’

Tennis racket in hand, Luna Barnes paused for a few minutes Monday on public courts in Sausalito to reflect on her enjoyment of the morning.

“It’s fun getting to learn how to play tennis,” Luna, 13, of Novato, a seventh-grader at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera. “I’ve played tennis before — but this way, I get to play against new people.”

Luna was one of about 25 boys and girls ages 7 to 13 in a two-week summer tennis camp this month organized by Paul Austin, founder and executive director of the Marin City nonprofit Play Marin, and Tara Sridharan, a varsity tennis player at Branson School in Ross.

Two hourlong sessions — one for the older kids from 10 to 11 am, and a second for the younger children from 11 am to noon — were scheduled from Monday to Thursday last week and until Thursday this week. Girls met on Mondays and Wednesdays; boys on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sridharan, 16, a junior, and six other Branson and Redwood High School tennis players are serving as volunteer coaches for the camp. Tennis rackets and balls were donated by the community, Sridharan said. She brought orange cones to mark strategic spots on the courts.

The players ranged from beginners to experienced.

“The idea behind it is that by kids playing tennis and having fun, they get a craving for it and they want to do it in the future,” Austin said.

Play Marin also organizes kayaking, surfing, sailing and lacrosse outings for children and teens so they can experience activities they might not normally be able to access, Austin said. About 85% to 90% of the participants are from Marin City, but there are also youths from elsewhere in the county, he added.

“We’re looking to close the activity gap so that students can understand that everything in Marin is open to them,” he added.

Sridharan said she got involved with the camp project because of Play Marin’s mission. That is to offer “inclusion and access to extracurricular activities and athletics for children of diverse and socioeconomic backgrounds in Marin County,” she said.

Tennis, in particular, “has a reputation of being exclusive and for the rich,” Sridharan said. She said she wants to help open up the sport for participation by all youths in Marin.

“As a woman of color living in Marin, I am committed to developing further opportunities for underserved kids and families and making our community more inclusive,” Sridharan said. “High schools in Marin would really benefit from having more students of color on their tennis teams.”

Austin said kids who are introduced to a sport such as tennis early on will be more likely to pursue it in high school. Playing team sports in school has been shown to promote success in academics and in life in general, he said.

“I’m having fun playing with my friends,” Summer Maunder, 12, of Marin City, a seventh-grader at Marin Country Day School, said on the courts on Monday. “I’ve played tennis on and off for five years, but this is fun playing with new people.”

Summer said she has also participated in surfing, rowing and lacrosse through Play Marin.

“This program gives me a whole lot of opportunity to do different things,” she said.

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