By LORI PINELLI
For the Star Beacon
Todd Nassief, St. John School tennis coach, began a tennis ladder in the spring of 2012.
It started as a way of helping his team get more practice. Since then, the ladder has grown to include players of all ages and skill levels throughout the area.
They include junior high, high school and college students, as well as adults past 40, traveling from both Lake and Ashtabula counties.
A total of 168 matches were played this summer, making Ashtabula County No. 3 in the world in most matches played on the global-tennis ladder website.
The majority of the matches were played at Lakeside High School. Players who join are arranged like rungs of a ladder.
They challenge each other to matches online, moving up and down as they win or lose. The goal is to be at the top of the ladder. This competition is mixed with good sportsmanship, camaraderie and fun as well.
“It’s a fun time,” Alex Guthrie, a recent graduate of Perry High School who competed at the state level, said. “It’s pretty evenly matched.”
Kayla Johnston, a senior at Lakeside High, said, “This builds the tennis community. I can meet a lot of people to play with. I think the competition and sportsmanship here is fantastic. I want to thank Coach Nassief for doing this and getting us all together.”
Tony Massucci, a high school freshman at St. John, said that the ladder was a good way to play a lot of different styles of tennis with different opponents.
Carolann Sterkenburg from Geneva, said that the ladder’s website makes it convenient to meet people to play.
Katie Allan, from Lakeside High, said, “I wanted to play a bunch of people I hadn’t played before, for the experience. I like all the people I’ve met and become friends with. I want to thank Todd (Nassief). He puts his heart and soul into this.”
This summer, a Friday night league was formed from the ladder. Nassief helped match up opponents of similar skill levels for the league.
“This (league) was created on feedback from the kids,” Nassief said. “I was only going to do it the first Friday or two. But they enjoyed it so much that we just kept it going for the remainder of the summer.
“We never had less than 20 players on a Friday night. The last two weeks, I had the kids pick the teams. It was a lot of fun and added to the camaraderie and competition.”
Nassief said that most top level students play 12 to 14 sets a week. He wanted to create that opportunity for kids in Ashtabula County and the surrounding area.
“Tennis is more than lessons and clinics, the kids have to get out there and learn to compete,” he said. “Another thing that comes from the ladder is friendships. From the beginning of the summer, where the kids don’t know each other that well, to the end where they are joking and laughing whenever they get together.
“Some of my best friends to this day are ones that I met when I first started tennis in seventh grade. My goal is to get more kids to the next level, more qualifying for districts and possibly the state tournament in Columbus.”
The ladder condluded with a tournament. The top players were awarded medals.
The Ashtabula County Tennis Ladder will start again near the end of May for next year. Those wishing to join may send Nassief an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.