WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's still dark when kids arrive at Congaree Elementary School to play tennis before classes start.
"We have over 10% of the school involved in the Tennis Club," said Physical Education Teacher Jen Thompson.
The club has gotten so popular, it grew from one morning a week to four.
"The kids react to it with such joy and enthusiasm," Thompson said.
So four days a week, about two dozen kids show up to school before classes start to learn tennis.
"It enables them to play a sport that they can play their entire lives," said Junior Recreation Coordinator for South Carolina United States Tennis Association Pamela Banks. "A sport like tennis can not only teach them good habits on and off the tennis court as far as sportsmanship goes, it gives them a sport that they can play for their entire lives."
Banks helps organize programs for schools by connecting them with instructors and funding. Kids also use smaller nets, smaller racquets and special balls to make the game more enjoyable.
"I can help them to arrange to get volunteers to come in to teach them tennis and get a kids tennis club started with no problem," she said. "The United States Tennis Association South Carolina has grant funds available should they decide to start a tennis program at their school."
Congaree Elementary School got help from the USTA SC and the Lexington Area Tennis Association to start its program. It was founded after the daughter of a teacher there had to play on the boys' tennis team in middle school because there was no girls' team.
"They have excelled at everything we've taught them so far," said instructor and tennis pro Becky Offenbacher. "What I want them to get is a love for a sport they can play for a lifetime. They can play it forever. It's a great physical fitness activity for them. It's a sport they wouldn't otherwise be exposed to."
As part of the program, kids at Congaree Elementary will get a ball and a racquet to keep.
"All you need is a pair of sneakers, a tennis ball or two and an inexpensive racquet to start with," Banks said. "And a friend. Or a wall."
For help with a tennis program at your school, contact Pamela Banks via email or click here for youth tennis programs in the Midlands. USTA programs are free for kids under 10 years old.