Tennis teacher to maintain children’s enthusiasm | News, Sports, Jobs

Nashua’s longtime Park-Rec tennis instructor Scott McDougald gives some tips to Ella Galetta of Hollis and Zach Urim of Nashua during a recent camp day on the courts of Sargent Ave. near Holman Stadium. (Telegraph Photo by TOM KING)

NASHUA — Scott McDougald stopped what he was doing and shouted something that sounded almost coded.

“Coach Lindsay,” he said. “What is No. 9?”

“Cat,” Lindsay Gasdia replied.

“Cat,” McDougald explained, “is the patience of a cat.”

“Coach Jack, what’s the R-word?” shouts McDougald.

“Relax,” the answer comes back.

Yes, you need to be on your guard if you are a student or coach at the Nashua Park Recreation Department tennis camps run by McDougald, an instructor with the Longfellow Tennis & Swim Club at Sargent Avenue Courts in front of Holman Stadium.

He makes it fun and he makes everyone learn.

“Oh sure,” Gasdia said. “The kids love it, some of them come five or six times.”

McDougald, who has run these camps for about 27 years, adds a lot to tennis. You know it’s camp week when you walk down Sargent Ave and see flags posted along the street. McDougald pays them, and they are the flags of the countries his students have come from over the years. And that’s 50 countries.

“I just had two new students, a 4-year-old boy and a 6-year-old boy,” he said. “One is from Hungary and he just started playing tennis with me. So every time I have a student from another country, I go out and buy a flag. It was great because we have people passing by, stopping and taking selfies in front of their flag. The last country he had a student from was Bulgaria, and the flag is on order.

“I taught a young girl from Nepal, and they had never seen a napal flag in the United States and they were so excited. I try to let everyone know that we are all part of the same world , that we are playing tennis and having a good time.

For kids who have to wait their turn to enter the grounds, McDougald gives them puzzles, most with some sort of educational theme. The number of camps varies from 20 to 36 young people.

“I teach them history, I teach them geography, I teach them a lot of different things,” he said. “It just challenges kids not to sit at home.”

If they pass their riddles or quizzes, he hands out $2 bills or gold dollars. Still with regard to tennis, he distributes ribbons. No young person goes home empty-handed, “so that all children have something to feel good about.”

McDougald, who was born in Kentucky but grew up in North Carolina, has been teaching the game for 27 years and working in real estate sales. He played competitively, but he signed up as a professional instructor in Hilton Head, South Carolina, learning from the late tennis teacher Dennis Van Dermeer of South Africa.

He is just one of the people he has had the pleasure of learning or teaching with over the years.

“We had a young boy, he had an arm, a leg and an eye”, McDougald said. “We had to figure out how he could serve, but not be able to kick the ball. And this young man did. That’s why I love tennis, the people we meet.

“There was a study during COVID, and it said if you play tennis, you live seven years longer. It’s the only sport besides golf that you can play all your life. But (golf) is not free. Tennis is free.

But the instruction is not, but he and his team of volunteer instructors will also travel from the city to teach children who cannot afford the instruction. A few weeks ago they went to school in Derryfield and he was on the courts from 7 a.m. to 8.30 p.m.

“Not bad for a 73-year-old man” he said with a small laugh.

There was also a tragedy in McDougald’s tennis world. In 2006, one of McDougald’s tennis students, Nicole Scontsas, was killed in a car accident off Nashua Exit 8. At each camp, he awards a prize in his honor to the student who “has the best attitude, effort, always try, never give up” it’s written on the plate.

“I let the kids know how lucky we are to be healthy and happy and doing something we love to do,” he said.

One of his instructors is Gasdia, who was part of the double-winning team that was the deciding game in Alvirne’s Division II State title win over Portsmouth. She is also one of McDougald’s students, and during that pivotal match, McDougald was on the phone with her mother. He told her to go tell her daughter “No. 9 and 11”

“Nine, she knew she was trying to hit too many big shots, and she was patient,” McDougald said. “They started winning. And 11 means goal post, because it looks like a goal post. And what that means is hit in the middle. The first place in doubles is in the middle. They went from 5-2 to win 9-7.

McDougald will organize players by ability, with each group being assigned an animal: cheetahs, panthers, leopards, etc.

Cheetahs are the youngest and least experienced, but they can challenge other kids at a higher level than them, McDougald said, “to say, ‘Wait a minute, I can do that too.’ “

What is the main thing that McDougald must teach young people about tennis? In fact, he has a list of six.

“One, get the ball over the net,” he said. “Goal number two is on the pitch. Goal number three – I tell them this is where I make my money – you have to look good to do it.

Four, he says, is the most critical: Have fun. He has children who attend all four camps each year.

“It lets me know we’re okay because I have to keep changing them,” McDougald said.

Goal #5 is rules, which include sportsmanship and etiquette, and #6 is to never give up.

If a player misses a ball, they must fetch three of the flags and then return to the court.

“It’s different every time” Gasdia said of the camp format. “He always tries to incorporate different exercises, different fun games; it makes us search for games and bring in stuff, we kind of have creative control over that. It is awesome.”

A tennis camp like no other, with swimming pool (swimming pool just opposite), water balloons, etc. But tennis remains in the spotlight.

“He makes sure they all play by the rules and gives few incentives,” Gasdia said. “But it’s really great to see them gradually throughout the week getting better and better and seeing their confidence build. It’s good.”

Many of its camp counselors are former campers themselves. McDougald started doing the camps when the late Bill Longua told him about the camps that needed someone. Longua ran the former Nashua Swim & Tennis, which is now Longfellow. He comes to the courts at 7 a.m. to settle down. Camp starts at 9 a.m.

How much longer will McDougald teach tennis? He had an uncle who lived to be 103.

“My goal is 104” he said.

But how long on the courts?

“Most likely,” he said laughing, “‘at 103.”

Leave a Reply