Halls Ferry is a hot spot for tennis scene|[06/29/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

Many people are just getting off work and a slight breeze is replacing the stifling heat of the afternoon.

It’s 5 p.m. — the prime time to play tennis.

Toting racket bags and baskets or cans of balls, players made their way to the courts at Halls Ferry Park on Tuesday.

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Some of the people who play here are serious competitors; others are just starting to learn the game; still others just want a little exercise.

But no matter the skill level, this is where tennis thrives in Vicksburg during the summer.

On one court, two players lobbed balls – some of which bounced over the fence and into the parking lot – back and forth high over the net.

A few courts over, sisters Catherine and Christine Figueroa traded groundstrokes with the power and precision that is gained only from years of practice, while their younger sister Charlene, 11, practiced her serve on the next court.

The Figueroa sisters are regarded as the top junior players in Vicksburg. This past weekend, Catherine, 15, and Christine, 14, both Vicksburg High players, competed in the 16-and-under Southern Closed Championships in Rome, Ga.

&#8220We play games with each other out here, but it’s mostly just practice,” Catherine said.

On the courts at the bottom of the hill, Leonard Banks and Rick Shields were giving lessons and putting groups of players through drills as part of the city’s tennis program. Eight younger players showed up to work on their games early in the evening. Later, 11 adults got their turn.

Banks, the St. Aloysius tennis coach, said the sport is unique because no one is too old for the game.

&#8220Your mode of play and your form changes, but that still doesn’t hinder you from getting the ball over the net,” Banks said. &#8220And you can do that throughout your life, regardless of what level you’re on.”

By 7 p.m., eight of Halls Ferry’s 10 courts were in use.

The courts are so popular that Banks would like to see the lights, which are usually turned off around 11 p.m., kept on 24 hours a day.

But not all players like to play under the lights.

Willie Brown said he prefers to play when there’s still daylight. Willie and his son, Donald, got a workout in before dark Tuesday.

Last season as a freshman at Vicksburg High, Donald Brown qualified for the Class 5A state tournament in singles.

Willie Brown said he remembers bringing Donald to Halls Ferry when there were only three courts, hoping to spark an interest in a sport that his son could play for a long time.

That was 11 or 12 years ago.

&#8220Ever since then,” Brown said, &#8220it’s been a part of his life.”