Sarah Lynn Bronk, 16, was still trying to get used to playing tennis with her new racket at Rio Linda High School.
“I feel more comfortable playing,” said Bronk, who plays doubles for the school’s girls tennis team. “My other one was messed up because it got banged on the ground a lot. Even if this one was used, it’s an expensive one, and it’s very good.”
Bronk received her new racket, as well as a full tennis uniform, complete with tennis shoes, courtesy of Paula Goldstein, a volunteer with the Sacramento Area Tennis Association.
“We knew there were high schools in underserved areas,” said Goldstein, who practices with the team at least once a week during the season. “What we did with Rio Linda – we kind of adopted them. It’s not to say that other schools are not getting attention, but other clubs are doing that.”
As the result of the association’s support, more than twice as many girls signed up for the tennis team at Rio Linda this year – 35, compared with 15 last year.
One of them was Allysha Saeturn, 15, a sophomore who plays doubles. She was working on her forehand strokes with Goldstein during a recent practice.
“I think it’s just fun,” she said. “It’s something new. I played soccer and (tennis) is not as aggressive as other sports.”
Goldstein became involved with Rio Linda’s girls tennis team last year when Kathryn Kaer, the school’s coach, reached out to the association for help.
“They’ve always had a tennis team for years, but we always had trouble getting enough players,” said Kaer, who joined Rio Linda High School’s staff last year. “They didn’t have rackets or tennis shoes. The kids had to pay for the cost themselves – the school doesn’t provide any stuff like that.”
But that proved to be a hardship for Rio Linda students. According to state data, 81 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.
A decent tennis racket costs between $150 and $200, and tennis shoes run between $80 and $130 a pair, Goldstein said.
“A lot of us can’t afford to get all these things,” said Krystal Fernandez, 16, a junior who joined the team in her freshman year. “We had to do fundraisers – we really didn’t have the best equipment.”
She recalled spending $30 for a racket, another $30 on a tank top and black skirt, $40 for tennis shoes and $10 for a bag of tennis balls. “I didn’t get everything all at once,” she said.
Kaer said when she started coaching the girls tennis team last year, she only had about 10 tennis balls. Students were expected to have their own rackets.
“The kids would come out with racketswithout grips,” Kaer said. “Some kids didn’t have rackets, or (they had) junior racketsthat were too small.”
Students also didn’t have proper clothing for practice.
“Most of them didn’t have tennis shoes,” Kaer said. “They wore shoes that they wore to school. Some were even in flip-flops.”
Last year, some players on Kaer’s United States Tennis Association team told her that SATA could help. The group responded by donating equipment and helping with practice.
Goldstein said SATA makes a commitment each year to a number of community projects to get people involved in tennis. Last year, the group worked with three high schools – Hiram Johnson, Florin and Rio Linda. This year, it’s down to just one – Rio Linda – but the help included the boys team as well.
She recalled going to Rio Linda last year with another SATA member and seeing the substandard equipment.
“It was so pathetic,” Goldstein said. “Some of the balls were 5years old – you could see the rubber. They get beat up pretty quick, so we got rid of those.”
One of the first things that Goldstein did was to collect tennis balls from competitive matches that she attended. SATA also gave the school money – $600 so far, according to Kaer – to buy new tennis balls. “We got them five cases of balls to take them through the season,” Goldstein said.
SATA also conducts drives at various clubs and schools to gather old rackets, gently used clothing and tennis bags. The rackets are restrung and have new grips put on them before they are distributed.
“Last year, we supplied new rackets, but they could keep their own or get a new one this year,” Kaer said. Last year, Rio Linda received 17 rackets – enough and more for the 12 players on the girls team. This year, all 34 members of the girls team have rackets.
Supplying the proper clothing, such as tennis shoes, proved to be more difficult, especially for the girls team since many of the donated shoes didn’t fit.
Kaer said only eight of the 12 players on the Rio Linda girls team received tennis shoes last year. This year, all 34 members of the girls team – including the 12 players – have tennis shoes.
“We wanted to make sure that every single one of them were in tennis shoes, even for practice,” Goldstein said. “Even though they don’t make the top 15 (on the team), it’s important that they feel they are a part of the team, and developing their tennis game.”
The uniform for the girls tennis team at Rio Linda consists of a gold tank top and a black skirt or shorts. Last year, it took the team holding three car washes to raise the $600 needed to buy just the tank tops. SATA donated the black skirts and shorts. Last year, 12 players had full uniforms, and this year, 15 do.
Even with the support of SATA, the Rio Linda team is not expected to become a tennis powerhouse. But Kaer said that’s not the point.
“What I want to do is to get as many kids as I can to participate in tennis,” she said. “When they are done with high school, it will be a sport that will carry for the rest of their lives.”
Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.