BANGOR, Maine — As Peter Ciarrocchi works to return organized tennis to Greater Bangor, he gets a strange feeling.
“This is like deja vu for me again,” the 59-year-old said.
In 1981, he moved from Lincoln to the Monterey area of California. He found great facilities but very little organized activity.
Since his move back to Maine three years ago, Ciarrocchi has found a similar situation — places to play but no organization for many years.
So he has set about building the Central Maine Tennis Association to fill the void, including a U.S. Tennis Association Junior Team Tennis Summer League that starts play July 7. There will be a third clinic at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Hermon High School tennis courts.
The birth of the CMTA is welcome news for Eric Driscoll, the USTA community relations manager for Maine and New Hampshire.
“I don’t know the last time there was a strong presence [in the Bangor area], and I’ve been with the USTA for 12 years,” said Driscoll.
While there will be organized play for adults, growing the junior side is Ciarrocchi’s top priority. That’s where many of the future adult players will come from.
“If you don’t have a grass-roots program, you’re doomed,” he said.
Ciarrocchi began his rebuilding project last year, trying to get juniors introduced to like-minded players in the area.
The junior team tennis program this year is now available to youths in any community within a 60-mile radius of Bangor-Brewer, and they will be split into two age divisions — 18 and under (age as of Aug. 31, 2012) and 14-under.
For USTA members, the team tennis league registration fee is $24, for nonmembers the fee is $44 with the added $20 covering the USTA membership.
Once a player is a USTA member, he or she can register for the league online at tennislink.usta.com/teamtennis. For more information about the league or the CMTA, contact Ciarrocchi at email@example.com or call 990-3292.
Ciarrocchi found that there was a misconception among the players, who can put together their own teams, that they could only draw players from their current school. Teams can be made up of juniors from any town in the CMTA area.
The minimum number of players on a team is six, three boys and three girls. Eight to 10 is recommended, according to Ciarrocchi. The match format is boys singles and doubles, girls singles and doubles, and mixed doubles. Team matches are decided by total games won in the individual matches.
Mike Dunning, who just finished his sophomore year at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s hard to find a match to play around the Bangor area during the summer,” said Dunning, 15, a member of the Bapst tennis team. “This gives me a chance to play every week.”
Up until a couple of years ago, he had to coax one of his friends to play if he wanted a match, but it was sporadic. Now, he’s assured of matches every weekend.
“This gives me a chance to find more competitive kids I didn’t know were out there,” said Dunning.
Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Daigle of Bangor feels the same way.
“I’m the only one from Bangor High School [playing in the league]. I was the only one serious about it,” said Daigle.
“I didn’t know anyone outside Bangor. Now I’m finding more people to play with,” she added.
After the first league clinic on June 16, she became friendly with other girls.
“I look forward to playing against them in the future,” said Daigle, referring to having a competitive match.
Dunning is looking forward to sharpening his game.
“I’m usually a baseline player. I keep hitting ground strokes,” he said. “I’m just not as comfortable at the net.”
He’s seeking help with that.
“In a match, if I see something in my game I’m not doing so well, I can work on that,” Dunning said. “Right now, I’m getting help on my volleying [to improve his play at the net].”
There are three teams in the works — one completed, one close and one probably made up of singles who will be combined into a team. The top team at the end of the season qualifies for a spot in the state tournament.
“Every qualified league has the right to send a team to the states,” said Ciarrocchi.
Driscoll, who helped the CMTA and the Old Town Recreation Department get grants to build participation, is delighted by the impact Ciarrocchi is having.
“We want to see youth tennis grow, and team tennis with co-ed players is a great way to do it,” said Driscoll. “We will do everything we can to support that.”
He thinks it’s a format the players will enjoy.
“It’s important for us that kids have a good first experience,” said Driscoll. “With team play, they meet all kinds of new players.”
Entries are always open, but new players [or even teams] are always welcome.
“They just have to register before playing,” said Ciarrocchi, who is also looking for more coaches and parents to help.
Some of the juniors also are gravitating toward the Grand Prix Tennis Challenge, which has the same two age groups for juniors in addition to adult divisions.
“I’ve already had a number of juniors express an interest in Grand Prix. I hope to reach a lot more juniors,” said Ciarrocchi, who has extended the Grand Prix sign up to July 12. Challenge match play runs from July 14 to Aug. 15.
Playing against people of similar ability is helpful, more so than getting drubbed in a tournament and eliminated quickly as Dunning discovered.
“I played in one tournament that also had adults,” he said. He was ousted quickly when he faced a highly ranked adult first.
“And I played one [for juniors]. I had to play the No. 3 junior in New England,” he said of a second early exit.
Dunning plans on playing in a couple of tournaments again this year — the Betty Blakeman Memorial Tennis Tournament July 20-22 in Yarmouth, which raises money for the Cancer Community Center in South Portland, and either the Maine Summer Open Aug. 7-9 or the Southern Maine Hard Court Championship July 10-12, both at Waynflete High School in Portland.
“Hopefully, I won’t get as bad a draw,” he said with a smile.