Corey Feller has acquired a deep tan since the third week in June, when he began spending four hours outdoors each weekday morning. The 19-year-old from Jericho, now a sophomore at Tufts University in Massachusetts, is director of the Power 3 Tennis Camps, a summer job that keeps him on the sun-drenched courts at Calahan and Leddy parks in the Queen City. On a cloudless early July day, while many tennis fans are watching Wimbeldon on TV, Feller is at Calahan along with instructors Megan Cheeseman and Emma Salzman. They're supervising 16 kids dressed in red, blue or green T-shirts emblazoned with "USA Team Tennis."
Racquet's Edge Health & Community Fitness Centers in Essex Junction operates the tennis program under a contract with Burlington Parks & Recreation. Six successive weeklong camps guide two groups of children -- ages 6 to 9 and 10 to 14 -- in the fine art of lobbing a ball across a low net. Today Feller is helping the kids in the older group work on their game. Participants compete in quick matches leading to the day's finals. A few of the players are adept enough to qualify for the advanced afternoon clinics that Feller and his colleagues take turns organizing. Others campers have been appropriately placed in this session for beginners and intermediates.
"There you go," Feller says encouragingly to Sarah, after the little girl hits a successful serve. "That's all right," he consoles her a few moments later when she flubs the return from Elliot, who looks like an Asian Harry Potter. There's a bit less camaraderie in Elliot's next match, with Alex, who is almost twice his size. They disagree noisily about the score, but, as with Harry and Quidditch, the underdog wins. A few minutes later, the exultant champion calls out: "Hey, Carlos!" Feller smiles, then reminds the spunky boy that his name is Corey.
When Ben takes on Colin for the last match of the finals, Alex kibitzes loudly from the sidelines. Patience is clearly one of the requirements in teaching tennis to tykes and teens.
SEVEN DAYS: How do you get past the silliness to help them become better at tennis?
COREY FELLER: I've learned how to deal with kids. We don't have fights here. These guys are pretty well behaved. We've yet to coach the 6- to 9-year-olds, so who knows what that'll be like?
SD: Do you have any experience in this kind of work?
CF: For two years, I taught private lessons in Jericho during the summer, about 10 hours a week. And the Sunday before camp began, we had an all-day training in how to teach young kids.
SD: Did things go smoothly?
CF: It was awkward at first to coordinate an itinerary for 20 kids.
SD: How much can they improve in one week of mornings?
CF: With about five or six kids per teacher, we can only cover basic forehand and backhand, volleys, serves and scoring points. Technique-wise, there's not a ton of teaching possible. We spend two hours on instruction, then play different games: tournaments, relay races. But, after four hours a day here, they definitely all get better.
SD: Are they serious about tennis?
CF: Some take outside lessons. Others maybe will never pick up a racket again.
SD: I'm guessing that you were serious about it while growing up. Is your family athletic?
CF: Well, my dad's a psychiatrist and my mom's a psychologist. But my [maternal] grandmother, who lives in Florida but summers in Stowe, paid for my younger brother Eli and I to have lessons once or twice a week. I started at 6.
SD: It was always your sport, then?
CF: No. I also loved baseball and basketball. But, in the middle of my freshman year at Mount Mansfield High School, I realized I was much better at tennis. To make a real commitment to it, I pretty much gave up basketball.
SD: Did that commitment leave time for other pursuits?
CF: It was all tennis, academics and hanging out.
SD: What were your best subjects?
CF: Math and science. At Tufts, I want to major in biomedical engineering. I plan to go to medical school.
SD: No desire to become a tennis pro?
CF: That was never my goal. I wasn't good enough and I wasn't going to give up academics. I played a few national tournaments but never had a ranking.
SD: Describe some of the highlights.
CF: I won the Vermont High School Individual Tournament in my junior and senior years and the New England High School Individual Tournament as a junior, competing against the top two players from every state in the region.
SD: How many trophies do you have?
CF: For tennis, maybe 20.
SD: Did you play a lot during your first year of college?
CF: I was on the school team in the fall and spring semesters. I also did a few individual tournaments in the fall.
SD: What appeals to you about the game?
CF: It's a lot harder, mentally, than a team sport. But I love the challenge of being able to improve and see yourself perform, without having to depend on others. It's just you out there.
SD: Do you have any role models in the international tennis scene?
CF: I pattern my game after Pete Sampras. He's really down to earth.
SD: Are you a competitive person?
CF: Very. If I don't play my best, I'm mad at myself. But if I do and the other person still wins, then it's OK.
SD: Is competition good for the campers?
CF: We've found they love it. There are awards for things like most valuable player and best sportsmanship, and we give them all certificates at the end. Their skills range so much it usually doesn't matter how they're matched. We try to be fair, though, and show no favoritism.
SD: Has it been a great summer gig so far?
CF: I love teaching. I think I'm pretty good at it. This is better than an office job. It has good hours, good pay, and I get to be in the sun.