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Players give WNY tennis clubs the business

Tennis participation grew 4.1 percent nationally in 2005, according to the United States Tennis Association, to its highest point since 1992.

With more players playing more often, business is brisk at the nation's tennis centers.

The following remarks will give you an insight into what is happening at four local clubs.

>Amherst Hills Tennis Club (Todd Miller, executive tennis director):

Miller runs one of the largest junior tennis programs ever in Western New York -- close to 400 students. For adults, he has instituted a tennis school that has one-hour group lessons for all ability levels, seven days a week.

He attracts adults with round-robins and says Saturday night socials are a huge success.

Last year, Amherst Hills staged three exhibitions that included Jimmy Arias, Bobby Banck, and the Jensen brothers. Each exhibition drew more than 500 people.

Miller said these inspired players at all levels to increase their playing time so that participation in private and group lessons is booming.

>Sportsplex Tennis & Soccer Center (Ron Rambally, head pro):

Rambally has been at Sportsplex for two years, bringing stability to the facility. This has helped build all of the club's programs, including private and group lessons.

Under Rambally, the junior program has grown by at least 25 percent.

"Local high school tennis coaches have really helped us immensely by promoting different programs. We also give out tennis scholarships to players at schools who use our courts a great amount," Rambally said.

He notes that Niagara University practices at Sportsplex and the players give tips to their juniors, which has definitely been an impetus to more junior players joining the program.

Adults have league play most nights and attendance at clinics has been excellent.

Rambally noted that court time is up at most times during the week, although there are some openings in early mornings and afternoons.

>South Towns Tennis Club (Stephen Sayoc, tennis director):

Sayoc was rehired this year at South Towns, which had gone through a few lean years. He and his staff have been responsible for a rapid growth in court time and increased overall membership.

The junior program is at approximately 250 players, almost double from last year. For the first time in a few years South Towns has junior players entered in regional tournaments.

Adult members are still signing up, which was virtually unheard of this late in the season in years past.

Adult programs such as the mixed doubles leagues and Cardio Tennis have been popular.

"South Towns has been fully booked from 3-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. We still have some down time between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.," Sayoc said.

>Village Glen Tennis and Fitness Center (Tom LaPenna, executive tennis director):

LaPenna is proud of his junior tennis program, which still attracts top players. He reports his staff is working with more average players than in the past.

"We are putting a much greater emphasis on [average] players and have seen many make dramatic progress in their games," LaPenna said.

The Village Glen's clinic programs have resulted in increased court play and court time. All of his pros are carrying heavy loads.

The Glen plays host to the area's only pro stop, which has attracted new players and increased interest in active players.

LaPenna noted that the Glen is the only local club that provides hard and clay court (four courts are under a bubble) during the winter season. In addition, new lighting and court resurfacing has helped in bringing in new members.

"I'm very pleased with the way the sport is growing, both at our club and other clubs," he said.

Contact information for each club is:

*Amherst Hills Tennis Club, 5959 Sheridan Drive, Williamsville, 632-8600 (eight indoor hard courts, 10 Har-Tru outdoors).

*South Towns Tennis Center, 75 Mid County Drive, Orchard Park, 662-9396 (six indoor hard courts).

*Sportsplex Tennis & Fitness Center, 90 Ridge Road in North Tonawanda, 694-8877 (six indoor hard courts).

*Village Glen Tennis and Fitness Center, 162 Mill Road, Williamsville 633-1635 (six hard indoor, eight Har-Tru, four covered.)

e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com

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