Over nearly two decades, Tyler Thames has led the Barbers Hill tennis program.
As this spring comes to a close, he is happy with where they are as another team tennis season approaches.
The program played host to its annual tennis camp as 50-plus kids from fourth-to-ninth grades showed up to learn the ways of the Eagles program.
“Four days of coming out to play tennis and have fun,” Thames said. “We had a few champions in the hitting, backhand and serving categories. They are looking good and we are going to need them pretty fast because I graduated pretty heavy numbers. I have a couple freshman boys and about 4-5 freshmen girls that if they continue to develop, they’ve got a pretty good chance to a pretty productive high school player.”
The interest level with the sport has remained strong in the area and the Eagles program has benefitted.
“We’ve got a pretty vibrant program for a small school,” Thames said. “Year in, year out, we have one of the better programs in Southeast Texas in the 5A category. I know we have had an uptick in the area with Sterling having some success lately. Tennis is funny: It comes in bunches. You normally don’t get just one good kid, they usually come in groups of four and five. It’s a social sport where they push each other along and help each other develop.
“Everyone wants to be better than everybody else and that’s good for you.”
The high school program had about 60 players which Thames said compares with some of the bigger programs in the area. Barbers Hill can fill rosters at every level for boys and girls and 95 kids came out for the middle school program.
“I think we are in pretty good shape,” Thames said. “The good thing is that coaches are willing to share athletes and I have been places where that doesn’t exist. I’ve had cheerleaders play varsity tennis. My two best boys last year were varsity basketball players. I’ve had volleyball players. It runs the gamut.”
He may have lost his graduated athletes, but Thames does not see a dip in the program numbers and hopes to keep teaching the game the best he knows.
“We always start out with, ‘Consistency is your first weapon,’” Thames said. “We start with these young kids to getting it over the net has extreme value. That never fails. As they develop, you try to add variety and power. Consistency though, is hard to beat.
“Every kid is different with different strengths and weaknesses and each tennis match is fun: Every tennis match is different. It’s like a chess match. Sometimes you play to your strengths and others you play to your opponent’s weakness. We have a saying: ‘Ugly but effective.’ There is nothing wrong with winning ugly. It doesn’t say in the newspaper that Little Johnny won but it was ugly. We are all about winning.”