Checking in with the Summit County tennis scene at Breck rec center
Where to play
Summit County is home to five public tennis complexes, including indoor turf courts in Keystone and Breckenridge. A glimpse at the rest:
Rainbow Park — two composite courts (first come, first served and reserved lessons through the rec center)
Trent Park — two composite courts (first come, first served)
Town Park — four composite courts (first come, first served)
Keystone Tennis Center — two indoor turf courts ($25 per hour), eight outdoor composite courts ($12 per hour)
Pioneer Park — two composite courts (first come, first served)
Breck rec center — two indoor turf courts ($28-$32 per hour), four outdoor composite courts ($10-$16 per hour), four outdoor clay courts ($20-$14 per hour)
Breckenridge drop-in clinics
The Breckenridge rec center and head tennis pro John O’Connor offer drop-in clinics throughout the summer, held on the outdoor tennis courts for players of all abilities (16 years and older). Registration is $20 at the rec center front desk on a first come, first served basis.
The best part: It’s one of the easiest ways to meet fellow tennis junkies and learn more about the High Country tennis community. For more info on the drop-in clinics and other tennis services, see the rec center website
All levels clinic
10:30 a.m. to noon — Mondays and Tuesdays
12:30-2 p.m. — Saturdays
10:30 a.m. to noon — Mondays and Wednesdays
Advanced clinic (NTRP rating 3.5 and up)
10:30 a.m. to noon — Tuesdays and Thursdays
Extreme clinic (NTRP rating 4.0 and up)
1:30-3 p.m. — Fridays
A tennis ball machine is one serious piece of equipment.
About 15 minutes into the $20 drop-in clinic at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, a group of a dozen or so tennis players and three coaches gather on the baseline across from the machine. It’s a green monster — or at least it seems that way to an outsider — with a top-loaded bin that feeds iconic yellow balls to an interior arm, which then spits the fuzzy rockets across the net with near-pinpoint accuracy: right, left, high, low, lob, laser.
It’s the next-best thing to a flesh-and-blood server, and, for an unarmed outsider without a racket, it seems just as intimidating.
“Moving onto volley drills, “said Misha Jurkovic, one of two tennis pros at the rec center along with John O’Connor, the longtime head pro who played first singles at Saint Joseph’s College in his early years. The two run every tennis program at the rec center, from the summer drop-in clinics on Breck’s eight outdoor courts to private youth and adult lessons in the heart of winter on the town’s two indoor courts.
As one of his assistants loaded and readied the machine, Jurkovic explained the drill. Just about everyone on the court had been to the drop-in clinics before, held Mondays through Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon, and just about everyone knew the routine: take three volleys on the right side, take three volleys on the left and then circle back into line with the rest of the group. The drill is designed to last about 10 minutes from start to finish, which gives everyone in the small-yet-fiery group enough time for eight or nine rotations.
“Are we ready?” Jurkovic asked the group after demonstrating proper volley technique. Everyone nodded, a few gently clacked rackets together, someone anxiously said, “Fire it up,” and then the assistant flipped the power on the green monster.
The drill sounded simple enough, but, like tennis itself, the pace kicked into high gear when the monster started to spit. One or two newcomers struggled through the first round of volleys — the monster doesn’t take breaks, as machines are wont to do — and the rotation faltered slightly.
After a minute of semi-confused volleys, everyone fell into a rhythm. Some hits went wayward, others were perfectly placed, but just about everyone was laughing and smiling and chatting between rotations.
“You meet a million people playing tennis,” said Therese Paranka, a tennis player of 20 years who splits time between homes in Breckenridge and Highlands Ranch. “Tennis players are just the most social people in the world. It’s the first thing I do when I go places: I find the tennis courts.”
Tennis, coast to coast
Paranka is hardly alone. Everyone at the clinic that Thursday morning came for two reasons: first, to improve their game; and second, to meet new, potentially better players they can learn from. With any luck, Paranka and the rest come away with a new High Country tennis partner.
It truly was an eclectic group. There was Tracy Glass, a Houston resident who started playing at 4 years old and didn’t stop when she spent 18 years living and traveling overseas for work. Then there was Jerry Reiss, a 73-year-old from Naples, Florida who’s been playing for 15 years. And then there was Loras Heck from Kansas City, a Colorado Springs native who’s been coming to Breck — and the local tennis courts — every summer for 23 years.
“I’ve made some lifelong friends here and I don’t even live in Breck,” said Heck, who also said her friends enjoy the clinics just as much as a doubles match. “It’s just great to have this. It’s a nice break from the other activities. (My husband) doesn’t play tennis, but he plays other games with me: golf, hiking, biking. Tennis is for me.”
And then there was Deanna Jansen, a year-round Breck resident who’s been playing for nine years and recently got her youngsters hooked on the sport. She has three children — ages 8, 6 and 3 — and two of them recently started playing with help from O’Connor and Jurkovic.
“I love John and Misha,” Jansen said of the two Breck tennis pros. “John is also really great with the kids. He is amazing that way. He can be hard on the adults, which is good for us, but he shows the kids just how much fun this can be.”
The pros can be hard on drop-in clients — the Friday clinics are designed specifically for high-level, high-intensity players — but the clinics are less intimidating than the green monster. The group gets a break for water and rest every 10 minutes between drills, and just about every session ends with a classic game: king and queen of the court.
With about 15 minutes to go, the coaches wheeled the monster off the surface to set up for king and queen of the court. It’s a modified doubles match: a coach serves to a duo, which then volleys to a duo on the coach’s side. The best team stays on the coach side as king and queen.
“It’s like we’re out at Cowboys cheerleader tryouts today,” joked Tom McCracken, a 71-year-old former Navy pilot who played with Dallas for two years in his early twenties. The ladies in the group laughed, and then Jurkovic called the first two duos to the court. The laughter fades, if only for a second and it’s back to the game at hand.
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