A Racket Sport For Wintertime

fromWSHU

Championships were just held for a sport you may not have heard of — platform tennis. The rules are the same as regular tennis, but players use rackets that look like oversized pingpong paddles with pencil-sized holes in them, and they get one serve.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

At the Australian Open over the weekend, the championship matches were played in temperatures well over 100 degrees. As Craig LeMoult reports from member station WSHU, there was a different kind of tennis championship in Connecticut this weekend, in a very different climate.

CRAIG LEMOULT: It's about 11 degrees out here at the New Canaan Field Club. It doesn't seem to bother anybody, though. In fact, that's the way they like it. This is the National Junior Championship of the outdoor winter sport of platform tennis. Twelve-year-olds Harry Colville and Liam Breen are a doubles team from New Jersey.

What's the coldest temperature you guys have ever played platform tennis in?

Mr. HARRY COLVILLE (Platform Tennis Player): Probably today.

Mr. LIAM BREEN (Platform Tennis Player): Probably today, 11 degrees.

LEMOULT: So I'm standing on a platform tennis court right now. It's laid out exactly like a tennis court, but it's about a quarter of the size. And the floors are made of aluminum. And on all four sides, there are these walls made of chicken wire.

Oh, the guys are going to play. I'm going to get off the court here.

The courts can be heated to take care of snow and ice, and players use what looks like over-sized ping pong paddles with pencil-sized wholes poked through them. The rules are just like regular tennis, except players get just one serve. And if the ball goes by them during a point and hits the chicken wire, they can play it off the wire. Here's Harry Colville again.

Mr. COLVILLE: You know, it gives you a second chance to get that ball if you miss.

LEMOULT: That means points often go on for a long time. Steve Caccam is a platform tennis teaching pro in Summit, New Jersey.

Mr. STEVE CACCAM (Platform Tennis Teaching Pro): There's actually quite a bit of strategy involved in platform tennis. Some people have described it as almost the chess of racquet sports.

LEMOULT: The American Platform Tennis Association says as many as 100,000 people may play the sport. There are just over 200 kids competing here in the National Junior Championship. The categories range from 10 and under to 18 and under. A lot of them are from the wealthy suburbs of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. They're also from around Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Thirteen-year-old Robbie Gavigan is from Garden City, Long Island.

Mr. ROBBIE GAVIGAN (Platform Tennis Player): Only people that belong to clubs really know about it that much, 'cause you don't really have that many public courts. It's mainly just the clubs.

LEMOULT: The Platform Tennis Association is trying to address that by encouraging more towns to build courts, but that can be a hard sell in tough economic times.

The players' parents, most of whom are platform tennis enthusiasts themselves, are crowded into a hut that overlooks the courts. It's pretty nice by the wood burning fireplace.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LEMOULT: They're watching the finals of the girls 10 and under championships, and it's a close one. Eliza Denious and Ali Batter(ph) from Wilton, Connecticut are up six to five in the third set. One of the girls on the other team hits the ball out.

(Soundbite of applause and cheers)

LEMOULT: Ali's father, Steven Batter(ph), heads out to congratulate the players.

Mr. STEVEN BATTER: That was a nail-biter. Good playing, guys.

Ms. ALI BATTER (Platform Tennis Player): My fingers are really cold.

LEMOULT: The new champs may just be in the 10-and-under category now, but you may here their names someday if you're in Chatham, New Jersey. That's where the new Platform Tennis Museum and Hall of Fame is being built.

For NPR News, I'm Craig Lemoult in New Canaan, Connecticut.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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