Kneeland Builds Tennis in Garden City
2020 is the 100th anniversary of USTA, and to celebrate, USTA Missouri Valley is recognizing 100 outstanding members of our local tennis communities. In October, we are recognizing Heather Kneeland, who serves as assistant coach for the Garden City High School tennis teams as well as heading up the Garden City Tennis Association.
Growing up, Kneeland’s high school didn’t offer a tennis program, so her mother founded a community tennis association to provide lessons to local families. This experience allowed Kneeland to land a spot on the University of Nebraska Kearney’s tennis team for her four years in college.
Kneeland originally moved to Garden City because it served as a good halfway point between her hometown in Nebraska and her husband’s hometown in Oklahoma, but it wasn’t long before they began building a tennis community that would keep them rooted in the area.
“When I moved in and started coaching at the high school, tennis was strictly a seasonal sport, there was no off season, but that’s important because improvement happens over the summer for so many players,” Kneeland said. “After being here for a few years, I decided we should get something started like my mom did to help kids play more tennis.”
Kneeland worked with local adult players to start the Garden City Tennis Association. The group provides summer camps for the kids and leagues for the adults, as well as running the Garden City Open, an annual tournament that attracts players from all over the state.
“Basically, I just copied my mom. She did the tennis association in Nebraska for about 30 years, and I thought ‘You know what, we could do that here. Let’s get players out to western Kansas,’” Kneeland said.
Despite the setbacks COVID-19 brought this year, Kneeland was able to get the kids summer camp and the Garden City Open up and running after lockdown was lifted.
“Things started opening back up, so a couple of weeks ahead of time we threw the tournament together and started texting and calling people to tell them it was on,” Kneeland said. “Everything went smoothly. We followed all the guidelines with extra sanitization and social distancing.”
Between the Garden City Tennis Association and her work as a high school coach, Kneeland has been able to provide tennis programs to players of all ages. She uses her Net Generation training to work with youth players and partners with a local tennis pro to take the older athletes to the next level.
“We have a lot of kids out here in western Kansas who have never touched a racquet until they’re a freshman in high school,” Kneeland said. “It’s great to see the tremendous growth in them between freshman and senior year.”
Kneeland says that best part of being on the court is being there with a community of people.
“My best memories are from the tennis tournament every summer. There is some amazing tennis that goes on, but it’s really more about the people who keep coming back,” Kneeland said. “We’re just like this little family that keeps growing. It allows you to make connections across the state and into other states.
Now I see what my mom was talking about. She always said, ‘It’s not about the tennis it’s about the people,’ and now I get to see that happen here.”
We are proud to recognize Kneeland with a Gold Star award. You can check the official list of section winners here.