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Norwich - Laura B. Seder grew up in an athletic family, especially loving and playing tennis whenever she could and teaching it to anyone who showed a bit of an interest.
She was a tennis star at The Williams School in New London, and after school at home in Norwich, she would round up the neighborhood kids and march to the city Recreation Department's tennis courts on Mohegan Road, her brother Bart Sayet said. It didn't stop when she grew up, he said.
"Everyone in town would be calling her to play tennis," he said. "Everyone in town wanted to be her tennis partner."
Seder, a Norwich attorney and law partner of Sayet, died of breast cancer on Nov. 18, 2010. Since then, Sayet and his wife, Lori Lindfors, have wanted to create a tribute to Seder that would reflect both her passion for tennis and her joy at watching youngsters try their hand at the game.
Their own passion to honor Sayet's sister came to fruition this week, as dozens of Norwich youths made their way to those same tennis courts Seder loved so well. They picked up tennis rackets and balls - some for the first time - to give the game a try.
Sayet and Lindfors sponsored and funded the Laura B. Seder Tennis Camp at the Norwich Recreation Department. The pilot program started this week with 40 Norwich children spending three hours each morning on the courts with tennis pro Bobby Schlink of Lyme Shores Tennis and Conditioning Center and Norwich Free Academy alumni tennis players Stephen Piotrkowski and Kristie Andersen.
"I think Laura's looking out for us with the weather we've had this week," Lindfors said early Wednesday as she helped Schlink haul out buckets of tennis balls and piles of rackets to the courts. The program startup cost about $4,000, she said, and they plan to continue buying rackets to expand the camp next summer. They also hope to offer free rackets to kids who show Seder's kind of love of the sport, Lindfors said.
Participants arrived in bunches, and Schlink checked off their names on his roster sheet.
"I don't want to do exercises today," one boy shouted, anticipating that the first 10 minutes would be spent on running and stretching drills.
"Oh! We're going to do exercises," Schlink said. "Why do we do exercises?"
"To teach our bodies what we're going to do next," some of the youths responded in unison.
Real tennis started soon enough, as the children were divided into three groups and sent to the nets for forehand and backhand drills with each instructor.
Sarah Michaud, 7, took her first swing at Piotrkowski's offering from the other side of the net, and the ball dribbled to the side.
"Keep your eyes on the ball," Piotrkowski said.
Sarah's next swing sent a line drive past Piotrkowski.
"Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" Piotrkowski called out. "We have a winner!"
A few minutes later at the adjacent net, Cheyenne Cornish, 8, too sent balls sailing over the net past Schlink as he praised her natural swing.
Cheyenne said she had never played tennis before, but smiling broadly, said she plays baseball and knows how to swing. "I like it," she said of her new-found sport.
That sentiment made Lindfors smile, as she sat at the picnic table and watched balls fly in every direction, only some making it across the correct net. Some flew out of the high chain link fence that surrounds the court. "You're not trying to hit a home run," Schlink would sometimes say.
The Norwich Recreation Department usually tries to incorporate tennis into its programs, department administrative secretary Vicki Abele said. But Norwich hasn't had a tennis pro on hand for many years.
Lindfors said she and Sayet approached former Recreation Director Luis DePina after Seder died to try to start a tennis camp last summer. But DePina became ill and was forced to retire. He died in September of a brain tumor.
Lindfors and Sayet started the program this summer with the two week-long sessions to gauge interest and see how the program would work. The program started with about 35 kids this week but quickly grew to 40, a combination of participants in the regular Norwich Recreation summer camp and tennis camp sign-ups.
Next week's program will include the same mix, Abele said. Next summer, Lindfors hopes to expand the tennis camp to four to eight weeks.
A new session of the tennis camp will run next week from 9 a.m. to noon for up to 40 children ages 8 to 12. Spots are still available, and interested families should call the Norwich Recreation Department at (860) 823-3791 by 4:30 p.m. today to sign up for the free program.