Tennis instructor Birgit Gruner

Tennis instructor Birgit Gruner

Gruner growing top tennis talent

Vernon's Birgit Gruner is teaching the next generation of local talent the fundamentals of tennis.

Blue balloons adorned the entrance to Birgit Gruner’s picturesque tennis camp court a few hundred feet from Swan Lake on Wednesday morning.

Parents stopped in to pick up their kids, while others returned balls hit by Trevor Billows, a 20-year-old former student helping out his former coach and neighbour.

The balloons, put up by her husband, Bob, celebrated the 15th year Gruner, a former German amateur champion, has been instructing in Vernon. She’s 58, looking fit and still getting a charge out of teaching the basics of the game.

“It’s a great family sport,” said Gruner, a former kindergarten teacher blessed with the patience to teach a seven-year-old how to deliver a backhand volley winner.

“The parents see their kids having fun and they may have played in high school so they start playing again. Sometimes, they jump in and play here.”

Billows, a Fulton grad now studying to be an engineer, says Gruner was a major mentor.

“She taught me tons, not just about tennis, but on how to be a better person, how to respect and treat people.”

Gruner regularly plays some fun-filled mixed doubles on Fridays with the likes of Ray Kimoto, Meryl Ogden and Gary Schimpfl.

She’s teaching close to 40 kids this summer, including five kids from one nine-member Calgary family who bought a place on Kalamalka Lake.

Nicholas Peloso, a strapping 15-year-old, showed some decent skill as he and three of his brothers played some doubles after a series of drills. His father James, who played some college tennis, urged his boys to take the lessons.

“I’ve been doing it two weeks and it’s a fun sport,” said Nicholas, a 6-foot-2 all-around athlete. “I pick it up because I like badminton. She (Gruner) does a good job. I’m this good after just two weeks. I like that she doesn’t yell at you; she’s gentle.”

Gruner has a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings which she treasures.

“What I really like is when kids like Trevor, who are still involved in tennis, come by and play. I coached Hailey Crampton (on a scholarship with the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals, an NCAA Division 2 school in Michigan) and Rose Brzostowski. She just got her teaching licence so she’s an instructor at the rec centre.”

Gruner says she is careful not to put too much pressure on the younger kids since they can be intimidated by the size of the court.

“You don’t want to push because that doesn’t get the kids anywhere.”

At the end of camp, Gruner presents each player with a report card, complete with colourful graphics, showing they have been taught forehand, backhand shots, volleys and serves.