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Tennis pro serves up early Mother’s Day gift

Randy Kambic
Special to Coastal Life

For the last three years, Joel Hampton had been putting nearly as many miles on his car as tennis strokes while giving lessons and clinics.

He had been commuting from Fort Myers to North Naples as director of tennis at The Quarry, and playing in both the Southwest Florida and Naples pro leagues at many Lee and Collier clubs, respectively, during busy seasons.

He’s spending considerably less time behind the wheel since assuming the same position at Bridgetown at Plantation in Fort Myers recently, an early Mother’s Day gift to Karlene, who also knows plenty about tennis-related driving and will be spending less time on the roads herself.

“It’s great that he’s now so much closer,” said the Cape Coral resident.

“He has loved tennis forever,” she said, recalling that he started wielding rackets at 6 and began playing tournaments at 8. “You can’t undo it. Agassi was an inspiration for him. It’s great to see his career progression.”

“She drove me around a lot,” smiled Joel, who attended Cypress Lake High School and just turned 31.

Karlene added, “I was a tennis mom! We’d pile all his gear into our little Honda and drive to area tournaments,” plus go to Orlando and Daytona for state-wide competitions.

Didn’t slow down

She didn’t slow down when he became a pro — which included stints at Gulf Harbour Yacht & Country Club, Heritage Palms Golf & Country Club and Legends Golf & Country Club before The Quarry — as she has coached the boy’s tennis team at Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral for eight years.

As it’s bereft of tennis courts, they’ve had to travel to all matches and practice on their own. Yet, even with such obstacles, they were 13-2 and finished third in the district last season.

Adopting somewhat of a road warrior mentality “may have made them even more determined to win by always being the ‘away team,’ ” she surmised. “They were self-motivated to practice; I was so pleased they did so well.”

In the early years, Joel, and her daughter, Tiffany, helped train players at Camelot Isles public courts.

“Joel has always been great with kids,” she said proudly.

“It gets into the blood,” she said of her own love of the game, brandishing the wooden racket that she first wielded soon after attending Montclair University in New Jersey. “It seemed like it weighed almost as much as me!”

Retiring

She’s retiring next month after 40 years as a math teacher at Ida Baker, and would like to continue coaching the boys’ team next year, pending a decision by the school board as positions are first offered to active employees.

“It’s wonderful to be with the boys,” she exclaimed, and is proud of their perennially high GPAs over the years. “I’d have a rigorous day in the classroom and then the day would be transformed by being on the courts with them.”

Looking out excitedly on the six brand-new har tru courts at Bridgetown at Plantation, Joel assessed, “It’s similar to The Quarry but it’s a slightly larger facility and community. Some members attended some pro league contests so they have a vision on how I hit and play.”

Joel arranged for a special exhibition last week that included himself and several other area pros to get his program in full swing, and hopes to institute men’s and ladies’ play days, club championships, summer kids’ camps, other exhibitions and social events.

“I have so much nervous energy when I watch him play,” said Karlene. “I just can’t sit down.”

As Joel arranged for the club to host a pro league match next season, residents will have a genuine tennis mom/coach in their midst cheering for their new pro.

Beyond the gates

The Lee County Community Tennis Association recently hosted a practice session and picnic for local Special Olympics athletes at Three Oaks Tennis Center in Barbara Manzo Park in South Fort Myers ... The Palmira Tennis Club, Bonita Springs, will host special men’s and women’s doubles tournaments from June 3-5 for combined 5.0-to8.0-rated teams, benefiting the Tennis for a Better Life Foundation run by tennis club director Paul Segodo that assists children in Africa. Register: tennisforabetterlife.org.