One of Washington’s best teams is playing in town tonight. The Washington Kastles, the defending champions of World Team Tennis, play their home opener against the New York Sportimes at Kastles Stadium at the Wharf in Southwest Washington.
You and your family may want to check out the action. The matches are fun, and some big tennis names are scheduled to appear in the Kastles’ seven home matches this month: Serena Williams, this year’s Wimbledon champion, and her sister, Venus, five-time Grand Slam singles title winner Martina Hingis of Sportimes and Sam Querrey of the Sacramento Capitals.
If you go, notice that there are more than just the two teams of tennis pros at the matches. There’s another team on the court — the ball kids! They are the teenagers who get loose balls off the court, hustle to get towels to the players and make sure the players always have balls to serve.
Joshua Rey, the Kastles official who runs the ball kid program, told me that the kids have to pay attention, not freeze up during all the excitement and follow the score and action in the match. The team’s 26 ball kids are usually 14 years old or older and have played some tennis. They don’t get paid, but they can receive credits for their school’s community service requirement.
Shannon Ramsey of Dunkirk, Maryland, and Nikki Furst of Fairfax are among the ball kids. Shannon’s older brother was a ballboy at the annual tournament (now called the Citi Open) at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Northwest Washington. It looked like fun, so Shannon gave it a try. Now she’s 19 and in her sixth summer of being a ballgirl. Shannon says it’s “really special” to be down on the court and feel the intensity of the players and the crowd.
Nikki is also 19 but in just her third year as a ballgirl. She says the job is “her favorite part of the summer.” Like Shannon, Nikki thinks it is cool to be so close to the action and have a chance to interact with the players. The ball kids, according to Furst, “have the best seat in the house.”
Of course, being on the court is not all fun and games. While Shannon and Nikki say most of the players are nice and outgoing, some have superstitions that keep the ball kids on their toes. For example, Nadia Petrova accepts balls from only one kid; other players take balls from either of the kids stationed behind them.
But mostly, being a ball kid is a joy. Both Shannon and Nikki told me they met some some of their closest friends while serving as ball kids.
Working together, having fun and making friends. Sounds like the Kastles ball kids are a great team, and that’s what sports should be about.
Fred Bowen writes the sports opinion column for the KidsPost. He is the author of 17 sports books for kids. His latest book, “Go for the Goal!,” will be published in August.