Players come from around Tampa Bay to Zephyr Park
By Kyle LoJacono
Each Thursday night people from Pasco and north Hillsborough counties make their way to play tennis at Zephyr Park in Zephyrhills.
“We don’t really care that much about who wins and loses as long as we all have fun,” Randy Bahr, 52, said. “It’s exciting and I love to play tennis with everyone out here.”
Bahr, who moved to Zephyrhills as a child in 1969, won the most recent Zephyrhills city tennis session. He received a new tennis racket for being the reigning champion.
“I used the same racket I used in high school for about 30 years, but now I got this nice new one,” Bahr said. “…We have a lot of good players that come out and I’m not the best. Not a chance.”
Bahr said he started playing tennis because he grew up on C Avenue within sight of the courts in Zephyr Park. He played tennis at Zephyrhills High at its previous location, which is currently Raymond B. Stewart Middle. Bahr was also part of the first graduating class of the present high school in 1975.
Rick Black, who also moved to the city in 1969, was a few years ahead of Bahr in school, but the two did play together on the Bulldogs tennis team. Black, 55, attended his first night of tennis for the first time in several years May 27.
“When me and Randy played there were just two black asphalt tennis courts with chicken wire around them,” Black said looking at the five courts available at Zephyr Park today.
The Thursday night league goes from 6 to 8 p.m. and is mostly for men, but several of the stronger women also play then.
“Most of the guys hit a lot harder than the ladies, so we have ladies night each Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m.” said Karl Hinkle, director of tennis for the city of Zephyrhills since 2007. “Basically everything we do with the guys we do with the ladies too on Tuesday. A couple (players) from the high school girls team come out Thursday.”
Those two are Sarah Vande Berg and Amber Morgenstern. Vande Berg was the Bulldogs No. 1 player last year and will be a junior next school year. Morgenstern just graduated from Zephyrhills and was No. 3 on the squad in 2010.
Each week Hinkle gives instruction to the group and then puts them through a number of competitions. Winners accumulate points and whoever has the most at the end of the eight-week session is declared the champion.
“We give out small prizes to whoever has the most points at the end of the night,” Hinkle said. “Sometimes it’s grips, sometimes it’s a can of balls. At the end of the session they get something a little bigger for being the winner. Randy got that new racket.”
Hinkle is a former United States Professional Tennis Association coach and instructed at Saddlebrook in Wesley Chapel, Lake Jovita in Dade City and at Cheval in Lutz.
“We have a bunch of good players here in east Pasco and we get people from all over coming out,” Hinkle said. “They come from Land O’ Lakes and north Hillsborough too. They are a bunch of good guys and young ladies that have a great time each week. People should just come out and watch how much fun people have. They don’t have to be an expert of anything.”
Josh Thakrar, 52, lives in New Tampa and came out to the men’s night for the first time May 27. Thakrar said he has played on synthetic clay courts in the past, but never on hard courts like the ones at Zephyr Park.
“My friend Todd Vande Berg told me about it and I thought it would be fun,” Thakrar said. “I’m having a good time even though I’m new to it.”
Todd is Sarah’s father and the city’s director of development. He makes it out to the men’s league regularly.
Those interested in playing in either the Thursday or Tuesday night session should call Hinkle at (813) 679-9728 or e-mail him so he knows how many players to plan for. Each night is $10 per person, or players can pay for the entire eight-week session at once for $50.
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