It was a long, cold winter, but inside the St. Michael Parish Angelus Center, it has been sunny and bright for adults and youngsters swapping swings as they hone their tennis skills.
Anywhere from 20-30 participants from several area schools have been taking advantage of the family togetherness and fitness program offered for the past few months at the parish center. Volunteer instructors from the Ohio Valley Tennis Academy - including William and Mary Ann Blair, Jerry and Millie Mulhern, Marty Maness, Richard Smith, John Chatlak and junior assistant Georgio Alexander - have been helping the students, their parents and grandparents to learn and sharpen their tennis skills during the winter.
Alexander, 14, an eighth-grader at St. Michael Parish School, has plans to join the tennis team at Wheeling Central Catholic High School next year.
Photo by Heather Ziegler - Instructors for the Ohio Valley Tennis Academy include, from left front, Marty Maness, Georgio Alexander and Richard Smith and Millie Mulhern; back row, Jerry Mulhern, William Blair and Mary Ann Blair.
The program has provided an introduction to the sport for many who decided tennis would be a way to exercise and spend time with their kids. William Blair agrees. He said in addition to providing an environment for tennis lessons, the program has served as a "bonding" time among family members.
"We target the fifth through eighth grades, the younger kids, because they usually aren't introduced to tennis until high school. We feel we can be a feeder program for the high school teams," Blair said.
Kathleen Mansuetto said she came to the program with the intention of getting her 10-year-old granddaughter Sydney Mansuetto interested in tennis. But the recent widow picked up a racket and now enjoys the game and camaraderie that goes along with it.
Demetrio Agcaoili said he and his daughter, Danielle, 8, also look forward to being together playing tennis.
"At 4 o'clock on Tuesday, she will call me and say, 'Don't forget we have tennis tonight and don't be late,'" he said. "I have played tennis all my life and then found out I was doing everything wrong. This is a chance for us to get better together."
Millie Mulhern said when parents and children play tennis together "they have a tennis partner for life." She noted there are not many sports that parents and children can do together, but tennis is a lifetime activity.
The group has moved outdoors to various playground courts to prepare for tournaments. And that's where they have been running into issues.
Millie Mulhern said the number of available tennis courts is dwindling. At Wheeling Jesuit University, fewer courts will be open to the public to make way for a football facility. Several of the city playgrounds have foregone tennis courts in favor of street hockey play. Courts at Oglebay and Wheeling parks are reserved for paying customers.
For now, the group will use courts at Garden Park in Warwood and at other city playgrounds when available.
To learn more about the tennis program, call the Mulherns at 304-242-1836 or Blair at 304-232-0126.