COLUMBIA - The hot sun shines down on the tennis courts at the Country Club of Missouri on Wednesday afternoon. A small group of teenagers gathers on Court No. 1 with coach Blake Edwards and stretches before practice. They pick up their rackets and head for practice.
This dedicated group of tennis players from CCMO gathers every weekday to practice. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the teens meet in the morning for drills and in the afternoon for matches. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the young athletes meet for an intense three-hour-long practice.
"It's really our chance to see the drills put to use," Edwards said about the Tuesday/Thursday matches. "We're trying to get them to act like they would in a tournament."
Phil Baillos, the head of the club's tennis program, began working at CCMO in March and has been trying to inspire people in Columbia to play tennis. Since coming to CCMO, Baillos has structured a tennis program for athletes at the elite and high school levels. The main focus of the program is to give instruction to athletes who want to play tennis at the national level. The program relies on staff involvement in practices and tournaments.
"I've traveled to numerous sectional and national tournaments, and I'm trying to bring that product to Columbia," Baillos said.
He said he wants to give high school and college kids an opportunity to be competitive against anybody in the country.
Tournaments are an important part of the program. Edwards said the players in the program are expected to play in seven to eight tournaments during the summer. The club takes the players to some tournaments, and the players travel to some on their own.
"One of the things that is different here is we offer coaching at tournaments," Baillos said.
He said the key to any good program is extensive coaching and participating in tournaments. The coaches select a few major tournaments to attend with their pupils. They will coach the athletes during the tournaments.
"We're the only people in the area offering this service," Baillos said. "We encourage kids to play tournaments outside of Columbia."
Baillos said the kids benefit from having a coach at tournaments. The coaches can watch the players and give them tips to help them play better. Coaches will travel with players through the Missouri Valley area, including Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma.