JUNEAU - The Juneau-Douglas High School tennis team has enjoyed continued growth under coach Amy Skilbred over the years, and now the program is looking for more kids from the community and Thunder Mountain High School to join the fun.
Seven years ago in the program's inaugural season, Skilbred coached a team of less than 10 players, though recent years have seen that number rise into the 40s and 50s. Now, Skilbred is handling Thunder Mountain's fledgling intramural program as well.
"Every year, we've gotten about 10-15 more kids to come out," Skilbred said. "We started the first year with less than 10, and here we are. I think part of it is, you can learn a new sport. It's hard to break into some sports in high school if you've never played, but tennis is not one of them.
"If you've never played tennis before - there are eight kids who have never picked up a racket before who are there right now - we encourage students to come and be tennis players. That's how we develop our team, and it also provides an activity that can last alifetime."
Skilbred said any kids who are interested can show up to practice from 11a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the valley's Juneau Racquet Club, even if you don't have a racket.
"All experience levels are great to have," she said. "We have kids coming out from Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas. Just show up for practice wearing non-marking shoes and shorts. If you don't have a racket you can borrow one, and if you keep coming, we would encourage you to get a racket."
Joining the JDHS team costs $50 a person, but Thunder Mountain'sintramural program is free.
"We basically run two programs. There are probably four or five kids from Thunder Mountain right now," Skilbred said. "There are a lot of kids there who play mostly intramural.
"In September, we play each other," she continued. "I divide them into six different teams, and each team has an experienced and a beginning player on it. And then we try and pair them up so they play kids with a similar amount of experience. Then we have a high school championship here in Juneau."
In addition, the school teams also play local adults on Saturdays, which Skilbred said is a good experience for the kids because it gives them the chance to play different people.
JDHS has consistently sent its top players deep into the state tournament every year, and with Thunder Mountain joining the community, Skilbred would like to see the school develop a program that can consistently compete on the same level.
"I have a group of kids who are very passionate about tennis and have played for awhile and play through the winter," Skilbred said. "It's their main sport, and those kids are typically the ones who go to the state championship. We typically do very well. We often have at least one of our teams or individual competitors win. Last year, our mixed doubles team (Merijke Coenraad and Steffan Wilcox) won."
Skilbred said the JDHS team has several players that could make strong postseason pushes this year, but she can always use more kids, and no one is cut. The practices change focus each day so players can perfect each stroke. The JDHS season begins with a slate of matches the weekend of Aug. 21.
"The emphasis is on having a good time and learning the sport," she said. "Today, already, kids who just started yesterday were able to play games. It moves pretty quickly, and every week or so we'll get new players and put them in based on their experience level. Everybody is welcome, and we reallyencourage people to come out.
"Hopefully, we'll get more Thunder Mountain kids coming out, and then they can build a program."