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Beginners tennis league sparks interest

Stephanie Pelligrini & Bonnie Massoia of Agawam Aces team. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Katelyn Gendron-List, Staff Writer

AGAWAM For adults that are tired of playing pick-up tennis at their local courts and thirst for the opportunity to play competitive league tennis, they need look no further.

The Agawam Parks and Recreation Department in partnership with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) have created the first beginner's league in New England, according to Nikita Zaharov, tennis service representative for the western New England section of the USTA. The league is composed of nine women's teams, and two men's teams that play once a week, from May to July.

"It's an important league for beginners who don't get the opportunity to play, to join a new league for fitness, socialization and fun," Chris Sparks, director of the Agawam Parks and Recreation Association said.

Zaharov, who was the one who initially approached the local Pioneer Valley Parks and Recreation Departments about getting this league started, is nothing but enthusiastic at how quickly this beginner's league has become a success. Currently there are two men's teams in Agawam and Westfield, and nine women's teams in Agawam, Springfield, Ludlow, Holyoke, Westfield, Longmeadow and East Longmeadow.

"It's amazing that it's become so successful because we didn't expect to have this many teams," Zaharov said. "And they really love to play."

The teams were created based on the National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP), where those who wish to play answer a series of questions about their skill level, and are then given a ranking, Zaharov stated. The beginner's ranking is 2.5 out of 5.0, which is the advanced league. The players compete at "fair play," which means that after they are self-rated the teams can be created with players of equal abilities.

"I really wasn't sure what to expect in terms of the level of play," Stephanie Pellegrini, co-captain of the Agawam women's tennis team said. "But it's been really great tennis."

Pellegrini stated that she loves the league because it is only a once a week commitment that does not get in the way of her responsibilities at home with her family. Additionally, the league allows her to play a sport that she has always loved in a competitive, yet non-stressful environment.

"I've met some really great women," Pellegrini said. "The other women like to give complimentary feedback and I've definitely seen a lot of improvement in my game."

The players have learned not only about the technical aspects of their individual games but are also required to learn, and play by the USTA rules, according to Bonnie Massoia, coach and co-captain of the Agawam men's and women's teams. The players have learned various rules like those surrounding tiebreakers, doubles play, and sudden death point.

"The hardest thing was teaching the beginners the USTA rules," Massoia said. "But I love tennis and anything I can do to get people involved I think it's great."

According to Massoia, the men's team, the Agawam Advantage, holds a 0-1 record, and the women's team, the Agawam Aces have a 1-1 record. But there is still a lot of time left to play, and the two teams with the best records will compete in the post season at a regional tournament and possibly move on to sectionals and later nationals.

Currently there are 365,000 members of the USTA nationwide, according to Zaharov, and it's still growing.

"We're a non-for-profit association aimed at the growth and development of tennis," Zaharov said.

The fee to join the USTA is $40, and there is also a $12 fee to sign onto a team, but after that the perks are substantial, according to Pellegrini. Dick's Sporting Goods supplies all of the balls for every match, and copies of "Tennis Magazine" are sent to each player, as well as e-mails about local matches and additional tennis information are sent out frequently.

According to Sparks, the future of this pioneer league was based upon the success or failure of this single season of play. However it is safe to say that the league will continue on next year Zaharov stated.

"Next year Chicopee will have a team and Springfield is overstaffed with players so I see 14 teams in all next year," Zaharov said. "Once they have chased that competition they catch a major bug to play."

For more information about joining the league next year contact your local Parks and Recreation Department or the USTA.