Nancy Keeran sees the boys and girls in the First Serve New Mexico program as “her kids.”
So it was refreshing to see them again practicing two weeks ago on her tennis court at home. But just like a parent, Keeran is putting safety first, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have to be very cautious — and protective,” said Keeran, the head coach of First Serve New Mexico. “These are my kids. I know I didn’t birth them, but I have been with some of them since the third or fourth grade.”
She and the rest of the coaching staff for the nonprofit program, which provides students from grades 3-12 in Santa Fe and Pojoaque with an after-school program that focuses on tutoring, life skills and tennis instruction, are excited about opening up its summer camp Monday at Alto Park.
It is the first official event for the program since the coronavirus outbreak shut down the state for 2½ months, and Keeran said the camp serves as much as a social component for the attendees as it is about acquiring skills for the sport.
In fact, they knew well before their parents did.
“All the kids were texting each other,” Keeran said.
The camp, which runs four days a week through Aug. 1, is for First Serve members. Communications manager Jordan Baca said the program allowed members’ siblings to participate in previous summers, but that won’t happen this summer to keep attendance low and adhere to state and city guidelines on large gatherings. The camp will have two sessions of 12 players, along with four coaches as they separate into groups.
“We have been thinking about how we could run the summer program for a while,” Baca said. “It was something that we needed to wait until we saw how things shaped up with the city and the pandemic, and we had several plans in place.”
Normally, the program has up to 50 participants in the summer camp, but Keeran said attendance had to be limited to half of that total and on a first-come, first-served basis. Keeran said she and her coaches made sure to abide by instruction guidelines also set by the U.S. Tennis Association, which was the reason for separating the players into group.
She added there will be plenty of hand sanitizer available, and there will be a half-hour break in between sessions to clean the court for the next group.
“We’ll have plenty of Purell and sanitizing wipes,” Keeran said.
Keeran said First Serve would have used the new tennis complex at Santa Fe High, but that was not possible because the school is locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She went to the city and received a permit for four courts at Alto Park.
Program co-founder Elanor Brenner expressed joy in having the summer camp, given the circumstances.
“New Mexico’s shelter-in-place order has been especially tough on our kids who thrive on peer interaction and activity,” Brenner said. “Two of our Junior Team Tennis teams competed in New Mexico’s USTA district tournament last year. Our 12-and-under team placed first and went on to compete in sectionals in Scottsdale, [Ariz.,] so the kids are especially eager to get their tennis skills up to speed in time for the summer tournament season.”
That part begins at the end of the month, as Keeran said she will take a couple of teams to Albuquerque for a tournament.
It won’t be as many as First Serve has brought in the past, but there is tennis to be played.