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Harbor Bay Club lays groundwork for youth tennis programs

Submitted by on 1, February 14, 2011 – 12:03 amNo Comment

Two-time grand slam finalist Todd Martin offers a brief primer on the basics of tennis Sunday at the Harbor Bay Club.

On a cool, gray Sunday, Todd Martin offers a rapt audience of about 100 people at the Harbor Bay Club a quick primer on the basics of tennis. As the lanky two-time grand slam finalist trades volleys with the club’s pros, his audience chuckles at his dry asides and munches on bagels and fruit. Fifteen-year-old Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald watches from the front row; the Piedmont resident, who started his tennis career at the club at age 3 and is now one of the country’s top-ranked juniors, will play an exhibition match against Martin in an hour.

To the side stands the man who organized it all: Paul Torricelli, Martin’s former Northwestern University coach and Harbor Bay’s new tennis director. And he said he’s working to set up a juniors program at the club that could someday turn out stars like Martin and McDonald.

“We’re trying to expand our junior program with a focus on 10 and under tennis,”  Torricelli said Sunday.

Mackie McDonald (l) and Todd Martin (r) chat with fans.

Where athletic clubs have typically opted to draw older players by hiring big-name professionals like Martin, Harbor Bay is instead focusing on creating tennis programs that will draw new youth to the club. And that is Torricelli’s forte, said Kirk Cowan, who manages the club.

Torricelli, an East Bay native whose father was a swim star at Alameda High, won three Big Ten Coach of the Year awards during his 24 years as tennis coach at Northwestern, a job he retired from in 2007. Since he started at the club in December, Torricelli has introduced three new tennis clinics.

In addition to his three decades of experience as a college coach and work as a club pro, Torricelli works with Scholarship for Athletes, Inc., which helps juniors find college programs, and has a close relationship with the United States Tennis Association, whose Northern California headquarters are nearby on Alameda’s North Loop Road.

Harbor Bay has just begun offering a QuickStart Tennis program, which is specifically aimed at players ages 5-10. The basic premise is to offer kid-size rackets and balls to make the game easier for kids to play; Cowan said the traditional adult court is divided up into five smaller courts to make it easier for young kids to get their start.

The club also offers weekly, one- and two-hour pee wee and beginner programs on Wednesdays for kids ages 4-8 as well as programs for intermediate and advanced juniors. And Torricelli envisions a high-performance program for juniors.

“We’re really going to focus on building a tennis program here,” he said.

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