Net Generation hay bale at N.C. fall festival

Arthur Kapetanakis | October 09, 2019

A Net Generation-themed hay bale, courtesy of the Rockingham County Tennis Association (RCTA) in Mayodan, N.C., might tempt onlookers to hit the hay… with a tennis racquet, that is. A five-foot, round bale was transformed into a giant tennis ball for entry into the town’s sixth annual “Hayodan” hay bale sculpture event.


Shelby Rhyne, executive director of the RCTA—a Community Tennis Association (CTA) and National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapter—took the lead on the festive project, the organization’s first entry in the month-long challenge tied to a fall festival on Oct. 12.


“There’s nothing simpler than a round bale and a tennis ball,” she said of the idea, which was executed with yellow and blue spray paint and stencil. The Net Generation tennis ball, complete with a “TM” on the back, won out over “Bale-y Jean King,” a proposed nod to tennis pioneer Billie Jean King, the namesake of the USTA National Tennis Center. (Sorry, BJK, maybe next year.)


“We have kind of a small start compared to some of the others,” said Rhyne, referencing the multi-bale sculptures that include a train, a dog and a fire truck.


The tennis-themed entry is complete with a haymaker of a slogan, taken from suggestions on the group’s Facebook page: “Hay, let’s play tennis!”

This latest endeavor is just another sign of the growth of tennis in the Rockingham County area. The RCTA has been in operation for five years. Without a home facility, the organization partners with schools and local parks and community coaches to bring tennis to local youth. Using the Net Generation curriculum along with the A.C.E. curriculum, the RCTA runs fall and spring programs, and also runs an NJTL program in the summer at six different locations. 


As awareness and support of tennis has grown in the area, three public tennis facilities have been resurfaced—two through the USTA Facility Assistance program, and one through the local parks and recreation department. A new project will soon be underway to develop for a new six-court tennis facility for school and community use.


The revival of the Holmes Middle School tennis team in Eden is the most recent highlight. After four years without a team, the school boasts an 11-player roster this fall season. It was all inspired by mother Gretchen Shelton-Raiford, who wanted her daughter to have the opportunity to play on a tennis team.


Rhyne was in touch with the school’s athletic director and recruited Jeff Parris, an RCTA board member and retired school principal, to co-coach the girls alongside Shelton-Raiford.


“They all got their starts in PE class,” Parris said of his team. Recent recipients of a USTA grant, the school was provided with Net Generation equipment, including pop-up nets, to create eight modified courts on the schoolyard blacktop.


“The two or three times that I’ve been there, they’ve been fully filled with girls just having fun playing tennis,” said Parris, who first got involved in the local tennis community through a Try Tennis initiative organized by the RCTA.


According to both Rhyne and Parris, tennis—a very popular local pastime in decades past—is hitting new heights now.


“I think that’s largely due to the work that Shelby and her group have done for the county,” said Parris.


Referencing the McMichael High School girls’ varsity team (pictured above), nicknamed the Lady Phoenix, Rhyne likened the local tennis resurgence to the mythical bird rising from the ashes.


“Tennis is on the rise in Rockingham County,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve had people tell us that before.”


Top photo credit: Edna Martin



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