The tennis courts at the Hickory Foundation YMCA teemed with students.
Kathy Kim guided their play like a mother with many children.
The tan woman with the tennis skirt and endless energy orchestrated all the activity – seemingly without effort, remembering each child's name, giving easy-to-understand feedback and throwing in encouragement as they practiced her favorite sport.
The courts here, no matter how packed, would seem deserted without Kim, tennis instructor for generations of children – for “almost 321/2 years.”
Last week The Dart landed at the YMCA, known as the Foundation Center when Kim first came here in 1976.
She wanted an activity her whole family could do together. So she and husband, Tong Su, a psychiatrist, settled on tennis.
The couple learned the game from a library book. Kim fell in love with the sport, and once she got the hang of it, signed up to teach others. She's been at it ever since.
She loves it so much that she reports to the courts seven days a week, missing only if the outdoor temperature drops below 38 degrees, when the children's hands get too cold to play.
Wednesday afternoon, she herded groups of children at practice and offered constant instruction and praise.
“That is so much better!” she told one boy who hit a ball behind the baseline.
She has taught thousands of children like him how to play.
“I'm trying to think when I didn't know about Kathy,” said Scott Wimmer as he watched his 8-year-old son, Sam, practice with Kim. His oldest son, Joe, learned tennis from her and now plays for UNC Charlotte's club team.
“She's hit a hundred million tennis balls out here,” he said. “I don't know where she gets the energy. You don't do what she's done if you don't love it or have some kind of mental condition.”
Rather than cutting back on her schedule over the years, Kim has only added to it. This year, she took on an elementary school league and a middle school league whose members put their practice into play all day on Saturdays.
Kim has won awards and accolades over the years for her own play. In 1985, she ranked fifth in the state in her age group and second in the state in doubles competition. She also coached the Senior Davis Cup team for the N.C. Tennis Association in 1988, among other achievements. In 2004, she was inducted into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame.
But she seems to relish teaching the most. In fact, that's where she gets all her play nowadays.
“I still love to do this,” she said. “I look forward every day to coming down here.”