Local Pros Producing New Generation of Stars
By John Packett, RTA Contributing Writer
There must have been something in the water around these parts. Or perhaps the moon was fuller than usual a decade or so ago. Maybe it was one of those rare, really cold spells that affects our area every now and then and keeps everyone inside.
Whatever it may have been, the outcome was the birth of a number of children to several of the teaching professionals in Richmond. And most of these kids are – not surprisingly – becoming rising young stars on the court.
Love, after all, is a prominent part of the scoring landscape in the sport of tennis.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s a very unique situation, I think,” said Scott Steinour, director of tennis at Salisbury Country Club. Steinour has three sons who play tennis, although all of them are in South Carolina now working at academies there.
“You have such a tight-knit group of all the pros, and we’ve been here for so long. You look at the Butterworths, the Bernstines, the Sancilios and now the Robinsons. We did have Carl Clark and his kids but they’ve moved away now.
“I think it’s amazing that so many pros have stayed put in Richmond and have kids that enjoy tennis. Now, you go to all these tournaments and you’ll see all the old pros there just watching kids. Not playing any more but watching their kids.”
Tate Steinour, 16, Steinour’s oldest son, played No. 1 for Midlothian High School last year, leading the Trojans to the state Group AAA semifinals. Cooper, 14, and Spencer, 12, also have been training in South Carolina, but Steinour hopes they’ll be back in Richmond by September.
“The pros are very close, and now to have their kids come up and playing against each other and training with each other is pretty neat,” said Steinour. “We competed here before we had kids, and now we’ve all had kids and they’re starting to take over.”
Chase Bernstine, 15, one of Mark Bernstine’s three sons, was ranked No. 1 in the 14-under group in MATA last year. Ryan Bernstine, 13, was ranked No. 2 in MATA in the 14s, while the youngest, Evan, 9, is another up-and-comer. Bernstine is the director of tennis and fitness at Hermitage Country Club.
Damian “Little D” Sancilio, 8, son of Courtside West partner and club director Damian Sancilio, made a name for himself when he reached the final of the “Little Mo” Nationals for 8-and-unders last October. His brother, Roman, 6, can hold his own on the court, too.
Chase Robinson, 9, one of three children born to Cris and Melissa Robinson, was the consolation bracket winner of the “Little Mo” Internationals for 8-and-unders in 2012. Ella, 8, and Mia, 6, also know how to swing a mean racket.
The elder Robinson is the director of tennis at Willow Oaks Country Club and Melissa is a former State Clay Court champion.
“Maybe one of the reasons is all of these tennis pros are about the same age,” said Melissa, pointing out that perhaps it was time for most of them to start having a family. “There’s such a huge group of boys 10-and-under that can play with each other.
“I wish there were more girls that played because there are a ton of girls [in that age group].”
Don’t forget about the two children of Ed and Leslie Butterworth. Audrey, 12, is the No. 1 player at Short Pump Middle School, the top middle school in the area, and Hatcher, 10, is a fourth-grader at Shady Grove Elementary.
Many of the offspring of the pros practice and play against each other in tournaments.
“Chase probably played with Tate the most,” said Bernstine. “The big group is Evan’s group. Cris’ son [Chase] is in that group, and Damian’s son. They’re all pretty competitive and they all like to hit with each other.”
Being the sons and daughters of pros gave these youngsters a leg up on the court, too.
“You teach, and you have clinics and camps and groups,” said Ed Butterworth, director of tennis at Burkwood Swim and Racquet Club and a former city champion, “and all the kids want to do it. With Audrey’s group, at one time, I want to say six of the girls were ranked in the top 35 in the Middle Atlantic. All from one little club.”
Even though all of them had the advantage of having a teaching pro for a parent, most tried other sports, too.
“With Damian and Roman, it started out as something fun to do,” said Sancilio. “Every Saturday and Sunday, we would just hit around and have fun with it. They both love it. For them, it was such a fun thing to do, and I don’t mind hitting with them.
The elder Sancilio said Damian has tried basketball, baseball, football and soccer, while Roman has a similar background. But tennis seems to be the sport that holds the most interest for them – for one very good reason.
“I think it’s because tennis is the sport they’re the best at,” said Sancilio. “It’s fun for a little kid for people to come up and say, ‘Wow, you’re really good!’ In other sports, they’re really good, too, but in tennis they’re amazing to other people.
“There’s so much fun around the whole tennis scene because they get to go and play in tournaments. They see somebody from Maryland they haven’t seen in a couple months. It’s a neat world for these guys. I think that helps fuel them.”
A former teaching pro, John DePew, has a couple of up-and-coming kids in Bryce, 16, who plays No. 1 for James River High School, and Kylee, 14, who is still in middle school. DePew was formerly director of tennis at Brandermill Country Club.
Another top area junior is Paul Mendoza, son of Rene Mendoza, the head pro at Woodlake Swim and Racquet Club. The younger Mendoza helped Cosby High School reach the state Group AAA semifinals and is expected to play No. 1 singles this spring.
And of course, there are the three children of Eddie and Stacey Parker, owners of Raintree Swim and Racquet Club. Kyle, 23, and Nicole, 21, were both high school standouts at Mills Godwin and in college, while Kensington, 11, prefers other sports.
“All those other guys and girls are following in my footsteps,” said Eddie Parker, with a big smile. “They saw how much fun it was to have kids that played tennis and went to tournaments, so they decided to do it, too.”
With all these talented youngsters with such strong tennis genes, might there not be some future city champions among the group?
“There’s a lot of really good players,” said Sancilio. “You can’t really tell right away who’s going to be better when they’re older. A lot of times when they’re this good really young, they either burn out or other kids start to catch them and they lose interest.
“But I think if these kids stay together and push each other up, somebody is going to get really good out of this group.”
Other local teaching pros with children who play:
Katherine Carnohan (Burkwood) — Josh, 16, No. 1 for Lee-Davis High School, and Casey, 13.
Mary Davis (Burkwood) — Twins Gabi, 13, and Claire, 13.
Brian Wills (Hanover Country Club) – Madeline, Emily, Jessica and Preston.