“Every game begins with love.” The quote is from a poster Karen Hooker hung where she can see it every day. Titled “Life Lessons from Tennis,” it celebrates second chances, new opportunities, and learning—all part of the sport for those who play.
Ten years ago, Karen, now co-owner with her husband, Andrew, of the Central Pennsylvania Tennis Center (840 US-15, South Williamsport) bought rackets and balls for her kids, hoping to encourage them to play outside more.
“I always loved watching tennis and thought it would be a fun, family sport,” she says. “But I’m the one who totally fell in love with it. Tennis became my exercise and social life, and a challenge that keeps me coming back for more.”
The quest to improve her skills took her to what was then the West Branch Tennis Club to play and practice. Because the courts are indoors—the only indoor courts within a seventy-five-mile radius—players can always have racket in hand, regardless of the weather. Gentle heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer makes the venue comfortable for lobbing year-round.
On Karen’s part, she loved it so much she and Andrew bought it in early 2019, renaming it to emphasize its location and inclusiveness. The Hookers expanded the leagues and clinics, made membership optional, made the courts available to more people, and saw enthusiasm for tennis grow.
“I’m passionate about tennis!” she declares. “I wanted to keep tennis alive in our area, and we felt we could give our heart and soul to this.”
“Tennis is a game for all ages, and as you age it’s particularly great for maintaining strength and flexibility,” says Margery Hoffman, who teaches youth tennis at Wellsboro’s summer Parks and Recreation programs. “It’s good for your heart and weight management—just a super sport for staying young. And there’s strategy involved so it’s good for your mind, too.”
Margery began playing tennis at ten, then competed on her high school team and in varsity tennis at Purdue University. Life took over, but she rediscovered the game after a quarter-century hiatus when she retired nine years ago. During that break, the sport had evolved, with lighter rackets upping the pace of the game. These days, she’ll reserve a court online and drive down to the Tennis Center with three other people for a few hours of fast-paced play. “It’s a real resource,” she says of the facility.
“It’s a classic sport that has gotten faster-paced and harder hitting,” confirms Maria Weisser, operations manager at the Tennis Center. “Tennis has evolved into a higher level.” At the same time, she emphasizes, the Center serves a variety of needs for frequent players, long-time enthusiasts, and those who are new to the game.
“There’s a lot going on, whether you’re a first-time beginner or advanced-level player,” Maria says. “Unlike sports like football, you can play tennis lifelong, whether you’re 5 or 105. It’s a mental game, a physical game, it supports your emotional and physical health. And there’s social support in the tennis “family” in the great tennis community in this area.”
“Tennis has introduced me to so many great people,” Margery notes. “When we moved to Wellsboro five years ago, we knew no one and tennis was instant community for us.” The social aspect of tennis is appreciated by everyone who talks about it. Players might be serious about tennis, but they also laugh a lot, cheer each others’ excellent moves, socialize after their game, perhaps relaxing on the mezzanine overlooking the courts to watch other groups play. The Tennis Center has also become the home court for Bucknell University’s tennis team. Karen encourages everyone to come and watch the team.
“It’s inspiring,” she says. “It’s not professional tennis but some of them—I wonder how far they can go. They make me wish I’d started when I was just a kid!” Kids learn more than strategy and agility from tennis—they also learn the usefulness of mistakes, the virtue of perseverance, sportsmanship, and self-confidence.
“Parents are so thankful I’m teaching their children a skill that gets them off the couch and doesn’t involve batteries,” Margery says. “I enjoy the young children so much! They’re natural movers, and they develop good hand-eye coordination that will apply to any sport. Learning tennis helps in decision-making and increases their intellectual capacity.”
Among new programming Karen and Andrew initiated were two tennis day camps—one each in July and August. They were thrilled with the response. Sixty-six students filled the camps to capacity.
“We want to grow youth tennis—and the way tennis is going to grow is through kids,” she says. For instance, Olivia Dorner, daughter of tennis pro John Dorner and a staff mainstay, has become a rising light among the area’s younger players.
Adults find they’re getting a whole-body workout on the courts, but they’re having such a good time it doesn’t feel at all like “work,” Karen notes. She’s found herself also enjoying 5K races with a friend who likes to run. And Margery, on a recent trip to Yosemite National Park, enjoyed snowshoeing without difficulty while many others around her were finding the exercise rough going.
“They say tennis players live longer,” notes Maria. “We get a lot of women who played in high school, then started working and raising a family, and now they’re jumping back into tennis after stepping away for a few years. They’re blooming and flourishing! It keeps you young and healthy and your mind alert.”
Karen, who is also the assistant tennis coach at Williamsport High School, explains why that may be the case. “I tell people this and I feel it completely—when I’m on a tennis court I’m just me. I’m not being a mom, a wife, or a daughter, or a sister; I don’t have to think about other responsibilities. I just let everything else fade away and focus on the ball and the people on the court with me. When I could—finally—make the ball do what I wanted (for the most part), it gave me such a feeling of success! I don’t think I’ll ever feel tired of working on my game. It’s a challenge, and when you meet that challenge, it’s so satisfying. You can work really hard and feel like you’ve hit a plateau when you’re not advancing any more—and you push on and then you do advance.”
Find the Central PA Tennis Center on Facebook, at centralpatenniscenter.com, or by calling (570) 326-2828. To find out more about the summer tennis program for kids in Wellsboro, contact Margery at [email protected].