Tiger Woods has the nation's youth awe-struck with his spectacular abilities on the golf course.
As a result, kids who would never pick up a golf club before are learning the game and competing in the sport at the junior high and high school levels.
That means other spring and summer sports have either suffered in numbers or haven't seen an obvious increase. One such sport is tennis.
But even though numbers are down in the school system, one sure sign the sport in the Brainerd lakes area is not even close to dead is the evolution of the Paul Bunyan Junior Tennis Open, which begins Monday and runs through Wednesday.
"Our numbers are down in the school partly because of Tiger Woods in golf," said tournament director Jan Costello, who also works with both boys and girls at the junior high level. "People will follow a winner."
Bud Schmidt started the tournament decades ago, well before Costello began her involvement 30 years ago. But only 10 years ago did she gain the United States Tennis Association to be the sponsored event.
"It's kind of like the U.S. Open only smaller," Costello said sarcastically. "I started taking my boys to tournaments in North Dakota, South Dakota and the Twin Cities and I thought, hey, we can do this in Brainerd.
"And word gets out. We have a consolation for singles and doubles and most tourneys don't have that. It gets a lot of participation; everyone is guaranteed four events. Normally if you enter a tournament and lose, you'd be out."
The Paul Bunyan attracted 187 total entrants this year, down slightly from 211 last year when it was at its highest ever. Boys and girls will compete in five different age groups from 10-and-under to 18-and-under.
The tournament attracted contestants from North Dakota and Wisconsin as well as Alabama, where two youths are vacationing in the lakes area and saw the tournament on the Internet.
There are also 12 competitors from Brainerd.
Kevin Imgrund, Shaun Kennedy, Parker Kienholz, Sean Switajewski, Conrad Kragness, Aaron Peeters and Matt Steiger will all compete in the boys 14-and-under division; Nathan Hall is in the 12-and-under age group, Tony Switajewski plays as a 10-and-under contestant; Brent Thompson competes in the 18-and-under division, and Chad Anderson and Paul Tuchscherer could face off in the 16-and-under age group. Megan Whalen and Megan Steiger are the lone girls in the field from Brainerd and both are in the 16-and-under division.
Tuchscherer, who played No. 1 singles for the Brainerd High School team this spring, won the 14-and-under age group last season. He said he is looking forward to a new challenge.
"It's always tougher competition when you get older," said Tuchscherer, who has competed in numerous tournaments each of the last two summers. "Most of the guys I faced in high school were juniors and seniors, but I played a lot of tourneys in the summer and I know almost everybody."
The tournament will be held at the high school, Gregory Park, Madden's and Grand View Lodge tennis courts. Additional courts will be made available if necessary.
"I really love the tourney because it's in our hometown," Tuchscherer said. "The courts are nicer. The seating is also really good (at the high school); you can watch a lot of the matches sitting on the hill."
With stars such as Venus and Serena Williams creating new waves of interest in the world of tennis, youth participation is starting its climb back up. And the Paul Bunyan Junior Open is just one indication of its growth.
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