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When a youngster signs up for Tennis For Kids, he or she receives a blue bracelet.

Inscribed on each bracelet in yellow letters are the words: "Believe in Yourself."

"It (the program) is not just about tennis," Tennis For Kids president Stef Campisi said. "It's about tennis, but it's also about life and life experiences. Keep trying at all times in tennis and life."

Tennis for Kids, which is free to children ages 7-16, began its 26th season on Monday morning.

"We certainly had no idea that the program would be around 26 years later," said Hank Merges, one of the founders of the program. "When Tennis For Kids began, tennis lessons were expensive, they still are, and families couldn't afford them. We also provide rackets to players who need then. Certainly, the instructors and site directors have done a great job, but our board (of directors) has been exceptional, too, in its support."

An average of 1,700 youngsters have participated in the program each summer.

The 2016 edition features instructors working with youngsters at 18 sites in York and Adams counties for three days each week.

Forty-three players gathered Monday morning on the hilltop courts at Farquhar Park in the city's northwest end. Ellie Geiman returned to Farquhar for her second year as site director.

"It's fun being up here with kids and watching them grow," Geiman said. "We have four instructors, one who has two kids in the program."

Lara Baum is the mom/instructor. Danielle Weichert, Savion Kirkland and Olivia Purcell also are back this year as instructors.

"I was up here (Farquhar Park), and someone asked would you mind helping out as an instructor," said Baum, who played intramural tennis while a student at Penn State. "I work with the 6-to-8-year olds, and I really enjoy working with little kids. I like to see improvement."

Baum's children, Ethan and Erica, are 14 and 12, respectively.

"I just like competitive games, and that's why I got in it (Tennis For Kids)," Ethan Baum said. "It's a fun activity."

Having fun while learning the basics of a game that you can play for a lifetime — that's what youngsters in the Tennis For Kids program have been doing for more than 2 1/2 decades.

Reach Dick VanO'Linda at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

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