The torn canopy and crumpled frame of what used to be a tent stood in a heap near the Lee’s Summit North tennis courts, a reminder of the tornado-producing thunderstorm June 26 that interrupted the second day of the Summit Slam.
And as the stifling heat and humidity built the next day, that tent’s remains became a symbol of the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the third tournament in the KC Summer Slam Series for high school-aged and younger tennis players.
“That tent’s 16 years old, and it’s a heavy-duty one and it got shredded to pieces,” said Stu Reece, Lee’s Summit North’s tennis coach and one of the KC Summer Slam organizers. “The players had a just left the court when the storm hit. My assistant and I were running to catch things blowing around.”
That tent would be the only casualty, but the storm did push the ending of the Summer Slam back another steamy day for the 145 boys and girls from 20-plus schools entered in the event. Those numbers are up from last year’s Summit Slam, and Reece said that just shows how popular the series has become.
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“The first two tournaments (this season) had a pretty significant increase,” Reece said “It just continues to grow in popularity and we’ve hit the right market for the right kids.”
Reece and tennis coaches from Blue Springs South, Liberty North and North Kansas City started the KC Summer Slam Series two years ago to promote more competitive tennis for area players during the off-season. Players can compete in 11 divisions of boys and girls singles ranging from varsity to novice along with a mixed doubles division.
There is no minimum age requirement, and boys and girls who have never played for a school team can also take part.
All players also earn individual and team points depending on where they place in their division. Team and individual champions will be crowned after the final event July 16 at Oak Park High School.
“We’re excited about this event continuing to grow in popularity,” Reece said. “It’s all about getting kids to play tennis.”
Matthew DeBacker is the kind of player Reece and the other coaches had in mind when they designed the series. A senior-to-be at North and a member of the Broncos’ boys tennis team, DeBacker can stay sharp against varsity-level competition without the expense of joining a club or playing in USTA events. The entry fee for each tournament is just $15.
“I think seeing kids we don’t usually play in the regular season gets me a better variety and helps me stay in shape for the tennis season,” DeBacker said.
DeBacker survived the storms and the heat to win the varsity boys singles division June 27. DeBacker beat fellow Bronco Lukas Parrish 6-4 in a weather-shortened championship match as North claimed four of the top six places in the division. Nick Mathis beat Blake Harris of Park Hill 10-7 in the third-place match and Grant Idoux fell to Justin Cooper of Blue Springs South 10-7 in the fifth-place match.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the results from the North players,” Reece said. “It’s a 27-man bracket and to have three of the four make the semis, that’s pretty strong. We’ll take four of the top six spots out of 27 and that’s a good sign.”
Mathis and Parrish also won the varsity boys doubles championship to complete an impressive outing for the North boys. Parrish and his sister, Kristina Parrish, were also third in mixed doubles.
“I think we really came out on our own home courts,” said DeBacker, who is second to North teammate Joe Hammerly in the varsity boys singles standings. “I think we really played well. We wanted to do good just to show we’re going to be someone to contend with next season.”
Kourtney Glenn of Lee’s Summit won the varsity girls singles division with a 6-5(7-4) victory over Olivia Berens of Lee’s Summit West in the final. Berens and Jordyn England downed Francesca Klosener and Jasmine Tucker of Blue Springs South 8-1 in the varsity girls doubles final.
West’s Ella Smith won JV girls singles and teamed with Marlena Davis to place second in JV/novice girls doubles. Brennan Crowley of Lee’s Summit took second in novice boys singles.
North tallied enough points in the boys’ brackets to remain a contender for the team championship. The Broncos are second behind defending champion Blue Springs South and they would like to have back the traveling trophy they won in the series’ first year.
“It’d be really fun to tell the kids from the other schools we won the summer pretty much,” DeBacker said. “I know coach really pushes it to help us stay sharp.”
The team title is important to Reece, but not as much as seeing the KC Summer Slam Series continue to grow. He just wants to see more kids on the courts in the summer, even if they sometimes have to dodge storms and endure heat.
“We’re just trying to grow tennis on this side of the state and give the kids a good outlet, a good opportunity to compete and play,” Reece said.