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Teacher now passing along the passion

Dr. Paul "Doc" Thompson's passion for tennis began as a young teenager in Indiana.

Thompson's mother, a former college player, introduced her son to the game at age 12 and it proved to be a lifetime sport.

After graduating from medical school in the Hoosier state, Thompson headed to Miami for a five-year residency in pathology. Thompson became an advanced player then and discovered that helping others learn to play would be his avocation.

"I developed a pretty good baseline game in keeping with the clay courts in Miami," Thompson said.

In 1959, Dr. Ira Evans lured Thompson to St. Petersburg to work. For more than 40 years since, Thompson has volunteered his time to help others, especially young people, learn to play.

"When I looked at places to come to work, I actually looked at the tennis facilities available," Thompson said. "The St. Petersburg Tennis Center was a factor in my deciding where to work.

"There were a lot of good kids at the center when I started here and we eventually evolved casual hitting sessions into routine clinics for the kids. The teaching pro and a couple of volunteer coaches like myself would work with the kids."

Jeff Davis, who has earned top state and national rankings and played the professional satellite circuit, was one of those kids Thompson helped train.

"Doc first of all is a passionate player himself and truly believes in what he does at the center," Davis said. "Doc would hit us balls, always took time with us and was such a steady hitter that we always got lots of practice.

"Doc was always adamant that there would never be a fee for the kids to learn to play. He continues that belief today. Kids that have the benefit of his presence today will be like those of us that were taught by him years ago, and they will always remember him."

When Thompson retired from his profession about nine years ago, he devoted even more time to the grassroots program at the center that now is offered five afternoons a week.

"We're not trying to develop world-class champions, but acceptable players that also have character and discipline," Thompson said. "I think the center's USTA First Serve program is helping accomplish that.

"What I appreciate most is seeing the kids turn out okay and then seeing them come back. They then show their appreciation by helping others."

Thompson, who never had any formal training in teaching tennis, encourages others to come to the center to volunteer in the grassroots program.

Thompson believes he has learned as much from the kids as he has taught them.

NET SHOTS: In this month's designated junior singles tournament, No. 5 Morgan Frank advanced to the girls 14-and-under final and Morgan Basil played to the round of 16.

In the boys 16, No. 4 George Navas advanced to the quarterfinal round.

Reaching the round of 32 were Lauren Saltiel in the girls 14; Amanda Yogus the 16; Christian Yepes, Ryan Buchanan and Jason Swenson the 18; Nicholas Berning the 16; Nicholas Smith the 14.

Main-draw entries in this month's Eddie Herr International Junior Championships include area players Alexandra Cercone and Alexis Kreplickin in the girls 12; Christina Liles and Yumi Hasegawa the girls 14; Alexandria Liles the 18; Tanner and Tyler Brown, Juan and Rodrigo Ferraez, Christopher Gupta, Miguel Muguruza, Joel Samaha and Kosuke Hasegawa the boys 12; Marc Spicijaric the 16; Sukhwa Young and Jose-Luis Muguruza the 18.

Main-draw competition for the international junior event begins Monday at the IMG/Bollettieri Sports Academy in Bradenton.

MARK THE DATE: The Second Annual Tennis Classic slated March 1 at the St. Pete Times Forum will feature Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe and Jim Courier.

Women's and men's singles is slated, along with a mixed doubles match.

For information call (813) 301-6736.

COMING UP: The West Coast Classic begins Friday at the Seminole Lake Racquet Club.

Age-division singles and doubles plus mixed doubles is offered. Call Krishnan Anandan, 394-1733, today to enter.

The Turkey Bowl Super Series for juniors is Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at Cheval Country Club in Lutz.

Call Francis Cooke, (813) 948-2282 by Monday's deadline.

A USA Tennis Free For All for beginning and intermediate players is planned at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Treasure Island Golf, Tennis and Recreation Center.

For information, call (727) 360-6062.