Missouri Valley / Kansas

Arkansas City Parks Program Provides Tennis & Life Lessons

Jamie Hansen | June 24, 2021



In recognition of Parks and Recreation month in July, we take a look at local public parks programs who are working to advance the game of tennis. 



Arkansas City, Kansas has a rich tradition of providing a wide variety of sports and activity programming for its population - young and old. 



The town with a population of a little over 13,000 about an hour southeast of Wichita has a wide berth of programming through the Arkansas Parks and Recreation department, including tennis. 

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The tennis programming is provided by the local tennis association. Aaron O'Donnell, Arkansas City High School tennis coach helps spearhead the efforts. 



Tennis has been a part of Arkansas City’s summer slate of youth activities for as long as O'Donnell can remember. He’s been with Arkansas City schools for nearly 25 years and tennis programming existed well before his arrival.



O'Donnell, who is also a middle school Social Studies teacher, said many in the community are of a lower socioeconomic status (SES) and providing local tennis camps, lessons and activities helps provide opportunities that may not be accessible otherwise.




Plus, it creates interest in Arkansas City’s middle school and high school tennis teams. Successful players on the prep level have come out of summer programming. 



“We don’t have tennis clubs near here. Programs, as well as middle school and high school tennis provide kids with a racquet in their hand and how to keep score,” O'Donnell said.  “It gives those who maybe can’t afford to be part of tennis elsewhere the chance to play. At the high school, we often play private schools in the Kansas City area, and it’s.nice to have these little farm town kids compete with private schools.”



In 2020, Covid-19 had a marked impact on the number of participants in parks and rec activities in town. This summer saw an increase in tennis participation but it’s not where it was before the pandemic. O'Donnell and Arkansas City Parks and Recreation director Landon West hope tennis and all other offerings see a bounce back as time goes on.



Arkansas City offers two groups of tennis lessons in the summer - red and orange ball. The lessons are taught by local high school players or returning college players for an hour a day, four days a week.  In 2021, about 25 local youth are taking part in tennis lessons. 



A new program this year also pairs local players with players in neighboring communities. Friday Play Days are just $5 to take part and invite players from Winfield and Wellington to join in, as well. 



O’Donnell said Friday Play Days give people from all three communities an opportunity to get to know one another and play together. He also said a commitment with Coffey Community College, as well as the local tennis association and the parks program, will ensure tennis is a mainstay in the community for a long time. 


“We pride ourselves in working with local community colleges and the tennis association. They have all come together to maintain the courts in Arkansas City. We have 21 courts in our community and this agreement ensures tennis will continue. It’s just a proven point that tennis is invested in our community and will continue for many years.”



That investment further helps the community and area youth develop into the people they were meant to be. Tennis - and other local sports programming -  also helps kids stay in school, learn how to be great teammates and a good sport. 



West said even if kids don’t move on from rec programs to become athletes, the lessons from the opportunities Arkansas City provides stay with youth throughout their lifetime.



“From a rec standpoint we try to offer as much as we can,” West said. “To get kids in here and have as many participants in those programs is our goal. We are a lower income level area and we have scholarship opportunities for youth programming so they can stay engaged. Not everyone is going to be an athlete. A kid that chooses to take part in activities is going to be so much more well-rounded.” 


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