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July 25, 2016 12:34 PM

Jacob Romero tells Toby Smith how he came to embrace Junior Team Tennis 

JacobJunior Team Tennis came along in 1990. Today, each summer thousands of youngsters 6 to 18 happily take part in this USTA offering.  Junior Team Tennis is made up of age-group teams that comprise both boys and girls, and use a format much like World Team Tennis: singles, doubles and mixed doubles.  Jacob Romero, (lying in the accompanying photograph), has been involved with JTT for the last seven years. Romero, 20, started initially as a participant in First Serve, a Santa Fe and Pojoaque academic program that includes a Junior Team Tennis component.

Did you grow up playing tennis?

No, I played golf for seven years, from age 5 to 12.  My grandpa was a golfer.   

Why didn’t you stay with golf? 

I got interested in Junior Team Tennis.  When I was 13, I was registering for middle school at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe.  My dad was with me and he thought it would be good to sign up for First Serve, which offered intensive tutoring two afternoons a week and concentrated tennis instruction two other afternoons a week. He thought having a place to do my homework was a good idea. 

Were you going to do both tennis and golf?

No.  I haven’t picked up a golf club since I began with First Serve. 

Where do you play tennis?

We played outside at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, but more recently at Capital High School. In the winter we go indoors, to the Shellaberger Tennis Center.

Did you play for a high school team?  

I played my junior and senior years at Monte del Sol.  I was No. 2 singles.  We did well as a team at state that first year.  The second year we weren’t able to qualify.  I had a good run at district in singles, but I wasn’t able to qualify for state.  

Who runs First Serve?  

It was started in Santa Fe in 2003 by Eleanor Brenner and her husband, Richard Brenner.  Eleanor’s still very involved. She’s in charge of everything. Junior Team Tennis is a national program. It’s really big in Florida.

Who coached you in tennis? 

Maddie Pack was my first coach.

Tell me about her.

Maddie was real serious, real stern on the court. She was a great instructor. More than anything she inspired me to be a coach. I saw all the difference she made in kids. Without her, I wouldn’t be playing tennis.  She got me involved in tournaments in Albuquerque and in playing high school tennis.  Maddie was my one steady coach. When Maddie got sick last year, I was the only person who had JTT experience.  Sadly, Maddie died in July 2015.  That’s when I took over as coach. 

How big is First Serve Santa Fe?

This year there are 40-60 kids involved.  In the summer it’s 20 to 30 kids. Boys and girls, 10-and-unders through 18-and-unders.   I coach the 18s. In the summer, we go about seven weeks, Monday-Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon.  During the school year, we go from 3:30 to 5 p.m.   

What did First Serve teach you?  

I became a better student.   First Serve hired a math tutor when I needed it.  Monte del Sol was smaller, so you got more attention.  I’m now at UNM, where I’m majoring in international studies and poly sci.   I’d like to get an internship at the U.S. State Department. 

Sounds as if First Serve holds a special place in your heart.

First Serve has become like family. Because I coach JTT teams now, I’m closer to the kids more than ever. First Serve has been really great to me. First Serve paid for me to join PTR, the Professional Tennis Registry, which will eventually certify me as a tennis instructor.  Even though I’m now a junior in college, I continue to be involved with First Serve. I frequently am called to talk to kids in the program. I know what First Serve did for me and I hope I can help do the same for younger kids.

How has your JTT team done through the years? 

When I played for First Serve, we never were able to go beyond third place.  This year, the 18-and- under team that I coach beat Eldorado and Highpoint in the playoffs, both of whom had beaten us during the season. That team was the only First Serve team to advance to the sectionals in Tucson. I’ll be going there with six kids and two other adults, Nancy Keeran and Rafael Garcia. Rafael played at Santa Fe High School and won a state doubles title.  Nancy took over for Maddie’s spot. 

I suspect it’ll be pretty warm in Tucson.
[Laughs]  It’s been 106 degrees there lately.  115 on the courts. We’ve been practicing at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to get used to the heat there.   

Where to after sectionals? 

If we advance from Tucson, the nationals will be held in Cayce, North Carolina, in October.  I’m trying not to think that far ahead. 

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