As students at Heathwood Hall, sisters Catherine and McKenna Savoca are required to take part in community service work every semester.
But instead of taking the usual route of getting involved in an established program, the sisters hatched a plan to pair their school requirement with their love of tennis.
The result is “What A Racket” – a grassroots series of clinics the Savocas put on free for kids who never have picked up a racquet before.
“The idea, actually, came while talking at the dinner table at home,” said Catherine Savoca, a junior and the No. 1 singles player on the Heathwood Hall girls varsity team.
“We wanted to do something different, and passing on our passion for tennis seemed like a great idea.”
“We’ve been to many clinics since we first started playing as little kids, and helping out at others when we got older,” said McKenna, a sophomore and the No. 2 singles player in the Highlanders lineup.
“It’s something we enjoyed being part of, so we thought we could take those experiences and do something our way. Being on our own gives us a sense of independence and a feeling of control.”
This was not a temporary experiment. In fact, the Savoca sisters plan to establish “What A Racket” as a permanent fixture on the Midlands scene.
“We plan to keep doing the clinics as long as there are kids who are interested in learning the game,” Catherine said.
“Even after we graduate, we hope to find committed people to keep it going during the school year, and we’ll be available during the summers,” McKenna said. “Hopefully, we can keep doing it for a long time.”
Long-range plans include cultivating sponsors and reaching out to area tennis centers and clubs for court times.
The first clinic was in Winnsboro in November with a group of children from Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Ridgeway. The second was on Palm Sunday at the Columbia Tennis Center with a youth group from St. John Baptist Church.
“We’ve been thrilled with the response so far, considering we’re just starting to get the word out,” Catherine said. “That first clinic was extremely rewarding for us personally. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you see the smiles of accomplishment after that first ball is hit properly over the net.”
The Savoca sisters do most of the heavy lifting themselves, with a little help from their parents and friends.
They use their babysitting money to buy printing supplies for pamphlets and signs, and purchase healthy snacks and drinks. They’ve successfully petitioned neighbors for basic equipment – balls and racquets. They’ve established a Facebook page to help get the word out.
The clinics stress the benefits of exercise and healthy diet in addition to the teaching of basic hand-eye coordination drills and fundamental strokes.
“For now, we want to keep it simple, but eventually we’d like to have the kids play for points to give them a taste of competition,” McKenna said.