Southern Boone Area YMCA Creates Junior Tennis Program
Within two months of Mitch Baumchen starting as sports director of the Southern Boone Area YMCA in April 2022, a couple members approached him about creating tennis programming. Baumchen tucked away the idea until a late 2022 Zoom call with USTA provided more information and put him in touch with Alywn Mushonga.
Mushonga — USTA Missouri and USTA St. Louis tennis service representative — gave Baumchen additional resources, including a link to USTA grants. Baumchen proceeded to apply for, and receive, a $1,000 USTA Missouri Valley grant. The funds from that grant — as well as support from volunteers and the community — enabled the YMCA to offer a six-class junior tennis program this summer.
“I’m all about giving kids opportunities for different programs,” Baumchen said. “I felt like this was a great opportunity to jumpstart tennis in our town. The way our town is growing … it just seems like there are more and more kids in school and construction at the schools can hardly keep up. Hopefully once we get enough kids interested and the community growing toward tennis, we can apply it at the high school level as well.”
The junior tennis clinic ran each Monday and Wednesday at Ashland City Park’s two tennis courts. Ten kids from ages 10 to 15 enrolled, with the program running from July 10 into early August. Participants learned tennis basics from volunteer coach Carrie Mertensmeyer from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Mertensmeyer then let players stick around for an additional 30 minutes to work on their game or play a short match.
“She’s definitely one-of-a-kind and a great volunteer for us,” Baumchen said. “She’s just a willing volunteer in the community and really wants to give back with her knowledge of tennis. My job is easy when I have volunteers like that. Without her help, the help of Alywn and our grant funding, we couldn’t have provided this program.”
Baumchen also credited Southern Boone Area YMCA Branch Director Kip Batye for connecting him with Mertensmeyer to get the new program off the ground. Mushonga traveled to Ashland to view a clinic in person and better learn how he might be able to help keep the momentum.
“These kids have never played tennis before,” Mushonga said. “For now, it’s all about gaining interest and for kids to have fun on the court. That’s the main goal. That’s how we’re going to be able to build a program out of it. There is a lot of potential. They are right next to Columbia and Jefferson City. That’s a big advantage for the city.”
Mushonga noted the city of Ashland has strong historical ties to tennis. The Southern Boone Area YMCA launched a winter tennis program before beginning the partnership with USTA, and about 20 kids participated. Of those 20, Mushonga said only one was in attendance when he visited Ashland this summer, further demonstrating the high level of interest.
“It’s really exciting,” Mushonga said. “I met a kid who was 11 and he was like, ‘My parents have looked for basketball, for soccer. I’ve tried all that. When YMCA had tennis, I just jumped in.’ He loves it. He’s just an amazing kid. And those are the things we’re looking for — just to give these kids opportunities.
“In tennis, we’re supporting the healthy lifestyle. That’s one thing we are getting out of this. I hope this program keeps going up. Everybody is getting involved with it. The community is involved. It’s going to be easy for that area to be successful in whatever they plan to do in the future.”
Baumchen said funds from the $1,000 section-level grant have gone toward program advertising and supplies. Each participating child received a tennis racquet. Baumchen also provided the volunteer coaches tools to better equip them in educating players.
Mushonga said he next hopes to get tennis into Ashland schools’ PE curriculum. Baumchen echoed that. Forming tennis teams at Southern Boone High School is one of Baumchen’s long-term objectives.
“My ultimate goal is to have a youth program where they sign up, have a practice schedule and tournaments are included with their signup here at the YMCA,” Baumchen said. “That way they dive into the competitive nature of tennis. That’s definitely where we want to grow. That way — when they’re competing at this young of an age and continue to develop their skills — hopefully by high school they have that opportunity.”