Missouri Valley / Heart Of America

Savannah Parks Tennis Program a Hit

Jamie Hansen | June 28, 2021


A strong, supportive community prompted Wakefield Hare to start a summer park and recreation program in Savannah, Missouri. 



And Savannah - a town of a little over 5,000 residents just north of Kansas City - has responded.



Hare is a financial planner and has aspirations of growing the tennis program in Savannah bit by bit.  He said the best-laid plans take a level of trust. He sees tennis as easily accessible to kids as you can use courts even if they aren’t in the best of shape. Even if there aren’t courts, there are ways to get rolling anyway. In addition, it does not take much to get kids into meaningful play, as huge numbers aren’t required.


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“A business plan is so much about trust. A key element of trust is time. That’s what we have applied to tennis. We need to build trust by acting above reproach. You act worthy of respect. If you do that consistently, you can gain trust. We can do a lot of big things in 10 years. We need to trust that tennis is not just a flash in the pan. It can also be much bigger than tennis. I’d love to see Savannah host more programming and even more events here.”



It all started a few summers ago with an organization called Young Life. Young Life is an organization that provides camps and other programs for youth. It’s also a way for adults to mentor kids. Hare said building relationships with high school students was where it all started - and a lot of those kids were on tennis courts. 


Hare has never played competitive tennis but got into coaching via Young Life. He also just finished his first season as the head tennis coach at Savannah High School, where five players reached the state tournament. 



Additionally, as a member of Savannah’s park board, Hare simply wants to see kids get involved. A recent junior tennis camp had three skill levels and the original plan was to cap the participation at 25, but it proved so popular they expanded participation to 30. The high school group had about 16 kids take part. 



The program received compliments from the kids and parents alike. The turnout gives Hare confidence to run the camp in the future. Another camp is in the works for August. 



“This is a strong community in Savannah. Anything you can use to bond the community is really well received,” Hare said. “I enjoy tennis coaching because of relationships - and the kids who learn the game and play before they get to high school enjoy it more. It’s important kids stay active, not only physically, but in their heart and soul to be able to see they have value. One of the biggest risks to youth is apathy. It’s great to get them moving at a young age. We want to continue to provide an outlet.”


A $500 grant from USTA Missouri Valley and USTA Heart of America has also helped get tennis programming off the ground. Grants of this kind from the USTA expand community tennis activities that address junior development, specifically community-based programming. They can help secure equipment or keep up local courts. 



Hare said the grant was instrumental in providing what the program needs to be successful.



“The grant was super helpful to put us over the edge,” Hare said.  “We were able to get a great ball machine - and to me - that unlocks the ability to create repetition. It is a bridge. Those grants early on are great, especially in the vision. Those can be tremendous to speed our progress up a couple of years.” 



Hare and his wife, Sara have visions for the future of youth programming in Savannah. But even if their vision does not come to fruition, he is pleased that he has gotten racquets in hands.



“It’s one step at a time,” Hare said. “Even if our long-term vision doesn’t pan out, what we’ve already done is good, even if it ends tomorrow. Even if all our plans didn't work out, we still enjoyed it. Not only does that help us be more satisfied today, but it may also be the one thing that will help us become successful. Ultimately, it’s not about the game of tennis, it’s about the people we are reaching.”


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