Tennis teacher out to maintain kids’ enthusiasm

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

NASHUA – Scott McDougald stopped what he was doing and yelled out something that almost seemed in code.

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

“Cat,” Lindsay Gasdia responded.

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

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

“Relax,” the answer comes back.

Yes, you have to be on your toes if you’re either a student or a coach at the Nashua Park-Recreation Department Tennis Camps run by McDougald, an instructor at the Longfellow Tennis & Swim Club at the Sargent Avenue Courts in front of Holman Stadium.

He makes it fun, and he makes everyone learn.

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

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

“I just got two new students, a 4-year old boy and 6-year old,” he said. “One is from Hungary and he just started tennis with me. So every time I get a student from another country I go out and buy a flag. It’s been great because we’ve got people that come by, stop and take selfies in front of their flag. The latest country he had a student from is 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 everybody know we’re all part of the same world, we’re doing tennis and having a great time.”

For kids who have to wait their turn to get on the courts, McDougald gives them puzzles, most of them with some kind of educational theme. Camp numbers range from 20 to 36 youths.

“I teach them history, I teach them geography, I teach them a lot of different things,” he said. “It just challenges the kids so they’re not just sitting at home.”

If they get their puzzles or quizzes right, he hands out $2 dollar bills, or golden dollars. Also with regard to tennis, he hands out ribbons. No youth goes home empty handed, “so all the kids 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 is in real estate sales. He’s played competitively, but he got registered as a professional instructor by in Hilton Head, S.C., learning from late tennis teaching pro Dennis Van Dermeer from South Africa.

It’s just one of the people he’s had the pleasure of either learning from or teaching over the years.

“We had a young boy, he had one arm, one leg, and one eye,” McDougald said. “We had to figure out how he could serve, not being able to toss the ball. And that young man did it. It’s the reason 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 do all your life. But (golf) is not free. Tennis is free.”

But instruction isn’t, but he and his team of volunteer instructors will also head out of town to teach kids who can’t afford the instruction. A couple of weeks ago they went up to Derryfield School and he was on the courts from 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

“Not bad for 73-years old,” he said with a chuckle.

There’s been tragedy in McDougald’s tennis world as well. In 2006 one of McDougald’s tennis students, Nicole Scontsas, was killed in a auto accident off Nashua’s Exit 8. Every camp he gives out an award in her honor to the student who “has the best attitude, effort, always trying, never gives up” it says on the plaque.

“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 winning doubles team that was the deciding match in Alvirne’s Division II state title win over Portsmouth. She is also one of McDougald’s students, and during that deciding match McDougald was on the phone with her mother. He told her to go over and tell her daughter “No. 9 and 11”

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

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

The cheetahs are the youngest and least experienced, but they can challenge other kids a level above them, McDougald said, “to say, ‘Wait a minute, I can do this too.’ “

What is the main thing McDougald has to teach youths about tennis? Actually, he has a list of six.

“One, get the ball over the net,” he said. “Goal number two is in the court. Goal number three – I tell them this is where I earn my money – you have to look good doing it.”

Four, he says, is the most critical: Have fun. He has some kids who do all four camps every year.

“That lets me know we’re doing OK, because I have to keep changing them,” McDougald said.

Goal No. 5 is the rules, which includes sportsmanship and etiquette, And No. 6 is never give up.

If a player misses a ball, they have to go get three of the flags and then get back on the court.

“It’s different every time,” Gasdia said of the camp format. “He always tries to incorporate different drills, different fun games; he has us look up games and bring in stuff, we kind of have creative control over that. He’s awesome.”

A tennis camp unlike any other, with swimming (pool is right across the way), water balloons, etc. But still, tennis is the focus.

“He makes sure that they’re all following the rules, and gives little incentives,” Gasdia said. “But it’s really great to see them progressively throughout the week getting better and better, and seeing their confidence built up. It’s great.”

A lot of his camp counselors are former campers themselves. McDougald began doing the camps when the late Bill Longua told him about the camps needing someone. Longua ran the former Nashua Swim & Tennis, which is now Longfellow. He comes to the courts at 7 a.m. to set up. Camp starts at 9 a.m.

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

“My goal is 104,” he said.

But how long on the courts?

“Probably,” he said with a laugh, ” ’til 103.”