Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Coach At Seattle's Rainier Beach High Wants To Make Tennis Accessible To All Kids

Paula Wissel
In April 2017, Rainier Beach High tennis coach Irvin MacQuarrie runs a practice in the gym because the outdoor courts are too wet.

Tennis is not an easy sport to just pick up. Players on high school tennis teams have usually spent years honing their skills. But at lower income schools that isn’t the case. There's an effort in South Seattle to help level the playing court.Irvin MacQuarrie has been the tennis coach at Rainier Beach High in Seattle for six years. He works in software and coaches in his spare time. His teams are often made up entirely of students from immigrant families.  This year's players have roots in Eritrea, Laos and Guatemala. For many players, the first time they picked up a tennis racket was when they turned out for the team.

At a recent practice in the gym, it was too wet to play outside. MacQuarrie talked about his team and his goals.

He remembers early on when his entire varsity team was made up of freshman girls who'd never played before. He spent two weeks teaching them the rules and going through drills.

In their first match against Bishop Blanchet, a Catholic high school in north Seattle, Rainier Beach  got destroyed. But he said four years later there was marked improvement.

"They were winning matches. They were competitive at the Metro tournament and it was cool to see their progress in such a short amount of time,” MacQuarrie said.

He says he could see how much difference it would make if kids got the chance to play before they even reached high school. To that end, he helped start several middle school tennis teams in the Seattle's South End.

And this summer, he and other tennis advocates, with the help of several non profit organizations, are offering free tennis camps in the neighborhood. The camps will be on Saturdays in June for kids of all ages.  

“We want to give kids an opportunity if they love tennis. Some might have a future in it," he said.

Maybe that future, he says, is just developing a life long passion for the game.

In some ways what Irvin is doing actually harks back to the past. In the 1960s and '70s, a woman named Amy Yee became legendary for running free tennis camps and clinics in the city’s South End.  As a result, the high schools in the area produced strong teams and a lot of kids went on to play in college.

Yee passed away in 2000. The city's indoor tennis center on Rainier Avenue, Amy Yee Tennis Center, is named in her honor.

Irvin says there’s no reason what Yee accomplished can't be replicated. He remembers when he was growing up that his mom cleaned houses to help pay for his tennis lessons. He says tennis is a sport for everyone and shouldn't be viewed as just for the elite.

“It’s unfortunate that it has that reputation of being a country club sport,” MacQuarrie said.

When I asked players at Rainier Beach what they liked about the sport, they said they like learning a new skill while getting some exercise. One girl says said she's made new friends and become part of a community. Another tells me there's just something very satisfying about hitting a tennis ball with a racket.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.