Zach Schrader remembers looking out a car window as he passed by Hampden Park.
He saw full courts of children learning to play tennis. That’s all he said he needed to see to get hooked.
“We just drove past, I saw it and I said I wanted to do it,” Schrader said. “It just looked fun. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
And he’s been doing it pretty well. In the spring, Schrader, as a freshman, became the first Reading High player to win a Berks County Flight 1 singles championship in 70 years.
He’s just one of the success stories of the City of Reading Tennis Program that began in 1998 and has been run by the Reading Recreation Commission since 2012.
“It basically taught me everything I know,” Schrader said. “This is the only place I’ve gone to for coaching.”
The program teaches players ages 5 through adult how to play and enjoy the game of tennis.
“When we first started the focus was the kids,” said Matt Lubas, COR Tennis director. “We found that it actually started to evolve into the kids and their parents starting to play.”
The Hampden Park courts are filled with children and adults four days a week in the morning and at night for COR Tennis instruction. When the program isn’t operating, players often are on the courts refining their skills or just having fun.
“This is one of the best venues to play,” Lubas said. “You’ve got seven courts up here, they’re lit, they’re on top of the city. It’s a beautiful venue.”
The results also have looked pretty good.
Like Schrader, the Reading High girls tennis team has turned the lessons they learned at COR Tennis into success.
Unable to play in the Berks Girls Tennis League last fall due to COVID concerns, Reading High joined the United X League in the spring.
The team went undefeated with sophomore Ashley Retana winning the league singles championship and sophomore Valeria Sanchez teaming with freshman Hallie Guerrero to win the doubles championship.
Freshman Hailey Guerrero (Hallie’s twin) was the Red Knights’ No. 2 singles player. All four girls are part of COR Tennis.
“We grew up here and we all trained together,” said Retana, an All-Berks pick as a freshman. “With COR we’ve become the players we are today.”
It has made Lubas and everyone involved in COR Tennis proud of all they have accomplished.
“I think just seeing that success was fulfilling for anyone who’s ever had a part in the program, not just present but past,” Lubas said. “I think there was a sense of pride.”
But it’s not only the champions. The level of participation in more than two decades also gives everyone in the program reason to to be proud.
Although the numbers were down the past school year due to COVID, Lubas said 150 to 200 elementary students participate in COR Tennis each year.
Because of the nature of tennis, the sport was one of the first to come back during the pandemic.
“While things were difficult this year, I think we’re looking toward a bright future,” Lubas said. “It’s like a sanctuary for them. They can get out, they can be free and they can play. It kind of took them away from everything that was going on during that shut-down period.”
During the summer, youth players come to Hampden Park from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. for instruction. Adults and some younger players often return at night to enjoy the game.
Lubas credited sponsors Fromuth Tennis, U.S. Tennis Association Middle States, USTA Foundation and the Berks County Community Foundation for helping to make the program affordable to city families.
“This is not a sport that you would typically see in an urban environment,” Lubas said. “I think that’s what made it so neat. It’s been a great success.