07/11/07 — Local tennis pros benefitting the area

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Local tennis pros benefitting the area

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on July 11, 2007 1:48 PM

Lee Bailey and Bert Poole both share the same philosophy when teaching the game of tennis -- make it fun. And the two professionals are helping it emerge as one of the fastest-growing sports in Wayne County.

For two-plus years, the much-recognized Bailey has taught at Walnut Creek Country Club. Students get the opportunity to learn from the UNC Wilmington graduate, who is ranked No. 8 in the United States Professional Tennis Association. Bailey was recently selected the 2007 Southern Player of the Year by the USPTA.

He impressed the USPTA with a strong performance in Las Vegas. Bailey lost to a former top-10 player in the third round.

"I was very surprised to get the award," said Bailey. "It's a real honor. The caliber of play at this tournament was just fantastic. It was as good of tennis as I've played."

Bailey's next tournament is the International Championships at Saddlebrook, Fla. He will represent the South and expects stiff competition, but is excited about the challenge.

"I think it's cool to be able to go and be in the same tournament with these guys and competing," said Bailey. "I enjoy going around and playing against high-quality competition."

Despite his busy and demanding tournament schedule, Bailey doesn't shirk his teaching responsibilities at WCCC. He shows his students not only the finer points of the game, but stresses the importance of having fun.

It's a sport you can play for a lifetime.

"We have fun, but we work to improve," said Bailey. "That way, if someone starts out young enough, then maybe they can pursue high school tennis and play on a college team."

Poole shares Bailey's view.

The former Guilford College coach and Starmount Forest Country Club pro, Poole was hired at Goldsboro Country Club in June. Unlike Bailey, he didn't play collegiate tennis and didn't pick up a racquet until a friend introduced him to the game in his mid-20s.

"They got me playing all the time and got me a job working at the tennis club," said Poole. "From there, I started playing every day and picked it up really quick."

Poole began entertaining thoughts of teaching the game in 1981, when he attended a camp in Canada. He gained valuable knowledge while working with high-level professionals and brought it back to the states.

He spent time at numerous tennis facilities, including a stint as the pro at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Poole's talent, experience and teaching has earned him a Pro 1 rating by the USPTA -- the highest mark an individual can achieve in tennis.

Now, he's brought that knowledge to Goldsboro.

"One of my co-workers at Starmount Country Club told me about this opportunity and it just seemed like a good fit for me," said Poole, who is a native of Philadelphia. "With the type of membership and the interest here, it just seemed like a good move for me and my wife, Jane.

"So far, it's been terrific."

Poole has a strong talent pool to work with at Goldsboro Country Club. Several junior players are ranked in the USTA and the adult teams -- men and women -- are perennial contenders on the Downeast scene. In 2006, the GCC women's 3.5 senior team claimed the national championship.

With Poole and Bailey teaching, tennis should continue to thrive in Wayne County.

"It all starts with making it fun, because if it's not fun, it isn't going to work for anyone," said Poole, who begins instructing kids at age 4. "With junior tennis, I try making everything playing oriented rather than lesson oriented.

"I want to grow the game in the whole city. Goldsboro is a really good tennis town. I want to make an impact at the club, and in turn, make an impact in the community."