By Rich Fisher
In tennis scoring, having love is bad since it means the player has no points.
But when it comes to Nell Geiger and Gwen Guidice, love is a very good thing for the youth of Bordentown.
Thanks to Geiger’s love of tennis and Guidice’s love of introducing tennis to youngsters, a popular tennis club is now in its third year of running at the Bordentown Regional Middle School. A group of between 10 to 25 students come out one or two days a week in the fall and spring to learn the nuances of the game, courtesy of the Princeton Tennis Program in West Windsor.
PTP is an award-winning, nonprofit, community teaching organization designed to expose as many junior players as possible to tennis in a fun and social environment at no cost to the schools (for more info, see ptp.org).
“Tennis is a lifetime sport,” Guidice said. “We want to reach juniors that may not normally think that tennis is an option for them.”
For a while, it was not an option for students in Bordentown. Not a free option, at least. The high school program dropped tennis after moving into its new building, which does not have courts.
That is where Geiger came in. As Bordentown’s district student assistant counselor, one of Geiger’s many duties is to oversee clubs. Through her long-time friendship with Guidice, starting the tennis club became a no-brainer.
“Through my own tennis and love for the game, which was introduced to me by my dad, Gwen said to me one day ‘Hey you work in a school, why don’t we bring our outreach to you?’” Geiger recalled. “I said ‘Hey, sounds great to me.’”
Geiger is currently a 4.0 USTA player who played high school and college tennis at Stuart Country Day School and The College of New Jersey.
“The reason I started the club is it’s just an extension of me,” Geiger said. “I love tennis and I know tennis always kept me out of trouble. It allows kids to do something after school. Gwen introduced me to (outreach director) Eric Wall, and we got it going.”
Bordentown is one of the latest benefactors of PTP’s generosity, which has a rich history of providing free or low-cost tennis to schools and towns in the region. They provide their instructors—who have impeccable coaching reputations—and even award a scholarship for their summer camp. Last year, it was won by Greg Toole.
“What the coaches look for is a kid who’s willing to learn,” Geiger said. “Not the kid who has the best forehand or backhand, but the kid who has a really good attitude and a willingness to learn.”
For the first two and a half years, PTP instructors Furdy Reeves and Pete Caselton ran the lessons. This spring, Indah Budiman has taken over as the teacher.
“They’re very patient, very kind and very strict with the kids,” Geiger said. “But you can see them actually learn strokes. We do forehand, backhand, a little bit of court strategy. It’s the absolute basics of tennis.
“And then we play fun games. We have a game called ‘Jail,’ where if a kid hits it out he has to go to jail and his friend has to unfreeze him. All the games are interactive fun, but through it all they’re learning about tennis, learning about working together and enjoying a sport.”
Guidice hears good things from her instructors.
“They are having a great time with these juniors,” she said. “Hopefully out of the bunch, we get a few that will play tennis into their 80s.”
Due to her impressive playing background, Geiger also provides instruction and has embraced every minute of it.
“It’s such a cool thing to see,” she said. “We’re all so busy with so many things to do, but when I get out there on that court and see them, it’s just great. These are kids that may have gotten cut from a team, they’re not part of a group. They show up and they are so willing to learn and they’re just having fun.”
Two of those players are eighth grader Giovanni Markol and seventh grader Ashley Gonzalez. Markol started in the program last fall and Gonzalez began this spring.
“I’m enjoying it,” Markol said. “I’m learning how to play the game and techniques for correct playing that I previously did not know.”
“It really boosts my ability to play tennis better,” Gonzalez added. “I am learning about backhand, forehand and learning the correct stance.”
Both players said they would love to see tennis return as a varsity sport at BRHS. Markol wants to continue playing “If I have the time,” and Gonzalez said “It’s my favorite sport and it keeps me active.”
That is exactly the kind of reaction Guidice enjoys hearing, since the goal of the Outreach Program is to not only introduce children to the sport, but to hook them on it.
As for getting it in the high school, Geiger said, “That’s certainly part of why we’re doing this. The goal eventually would be to bring tennis back to our kids at Bordentown.”
Geiger added that one board member brought it up at a meeting, wondering why the high school did not have tennis.
“The motivation is there,” she said. “The unfortunate thing is we would have to redo our courts. It always comes down to money. The USTA has grant money to re-surface courts, that’s something we’re maybe looking at for the future.”
Until that happens, “my little tennis club” as Geiger refers to it, will continue to chug along. The good news is that the attendance has held steady for all three seasons, and the students always seem to go home happy.
“The get so much joy from “I got the ball over the net!’” Geiger said. “They’re learning. We have one kid who’s special-ed, you should see this kid. Her forehand is amazing. We’re all having fun out there, but they really are learning the sport, and that’s the point.”
You gotta love it.