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Association firmly in juniors' court

East Pasco can boast of being the home of the world's ninth-ranked tennis player, French Open semifinalist Jim Courier. But his is not a tale of the hometown boy who grows up on local courts and goes on to conquer the tennis world, owing it all to good old Dade City.

Courier left home in his teens to live and train at some of the state's best tennis centers. Dade City did not have a place for juniors to play, and still doesn't.

Organizers of the East Pasco Tennis Association want to change that. With the help of the United States Tennis Association, the East Pasco group came together this year with an eye toward building membership that would be strong enough to establish a juniors program.

Toward that end, the EPTA will hold its first organized tournament Saturday and Sunday at Quail Hollow Golf and Country Club. The doubles event for men, women and mixed teams is being used as a membership drive for the EPTA. There will be no entry fee, but participants will pay membership dues of $10 for individuals and $15 for families to join the EPTA.

As of Thursday, 50 people had entered the tournament, organizer Tammy Penaro said. For information, call (904) 567-3231, (813) 960-3066 or (813) 868-9511.

"We're happy with the response, because this will give us a core membership that will help us work toward our goals," Penaro said. "There is no tennis program for children in East Pasco, and we're determined to get one started.

"Tennis is a lifelong sport that children can take into adulthood. And it also gets them off the streets and into something constructive."

Penaro said the EPTA will try to establish a juniors program with teams that would compete against those of other juniors programs in the area.

Penaro and Cindy Pond, two people who work with tennis programs in Pasco schools, have met twice with community leaders in Dade City and Zephyrhills, including school board member Jean Larkin.

"No one has taken the ball and run with it before like these two," Larkin said of Pond and Penaro. "This is a wonderful opportunity for students who ordinarily wouldn't get to play."

Pond, a physical-education teacher, and Penaro, a physical-education para-professional, have been teaching tennis through a USTA seed program. Under the program, the USTA donates the equipment that Pasco schoolchildren use in PE classes.

"I want to emphasize the USTA donates everything at no cost to the school system," Larkin said.

Larkin also said the USTA has funded tennis scholarships for four Cox Elementary School students in Dade City. The students will receive instruction this summer at Dade City's only two public tennis courts, at Price Park.

"The USTA is helping us get this started, and we are establishing the East Pasco Tennis Association to show we are interested in making it grow," Larkin said. "This is an exciting, wonderful opportunity for East Pasco."

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