May is National Tennis Month, a time to pick up a racket and have a ball.
You can do just that Saturday when the Suncoast Tennis Foundation, the city of Clearwater, tennis teaching professionals, and Advantage Yours Tennis and Running present their third annual Tennis Block Party.
It's one of many being held nationwide this month.
"We're celebrating the phenomenal growth of tennis," said Judy Foster, executive director of the Suncoast Tennis Foundation.
The tennis bash will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Henry L. McMullen Tennis Complex in Clearwater. The event is free, no registration is required, and all participants will get a T-shirt or tennis accessory.
Despite the weak economy, tennis appears to be a boom sport.
The United States Tennis Association's Web site, usta.com, says that "recent data from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association shows that tennis is the fastest-growing sport in the country, with participation increasing 43 percent since 2000 and 9.6 percent last year alone."
Foster attributes this to the sport's relative low cost, excellent health benefits and mental challenges, "without all the danger."
"It's a very social sport and teaches children good sportsmanship skills and how to make friends," she said. "We always shake hands at the end of the game, win or lose."
The block party will offer free instruction, cardio tennis classes, skill evaluations by professionals, product giveaways, round robins and a vendor court.
"Seven companies, including Wilson, Babolat and Prince, will provide demo rackets for trial use," Foster said.
"Advantage Yours will give coupons for a 20 percent discount and free stringing."
Foster suggested that the event would make a "great Mother's Day gift."
"Get mom out of the house, get her playing and exercising," she said. "Get her back in the game."
The Tennis Block Party includes:
• Tot Tennis Carnival for the 4 and under group.
• QuickStart Tennis instruction, a program for children 10 and under that employs smaller courts and rackets, lower nets, soft-foam or low- compression balls, and a modified scoring system.
• A junior tennis clinic for ages 10 to 16.
• Round-robin games for adults and experienced youth. Players will receive rating level assessments by pros.
• A wheelchair tennis demonstration at noon in stadium court. It will include Brittany Barrett, 17, of Brooksville, who used a special sports wheelchair for the first time in May 2008. She is now ranked fifth in Florida's Junior Wheelchair Division.
• Two cardio tennis classes, beginning at 10:30 and 11:15 a.m. in the stadium court.
Times correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]