The Gray Zone: Retirees Team Up to Give Free Tennis Lessons for North Denver Youth

By Kathryn White

From June 1 to July 30, youth ages 8 to 18 can learn tennis—for free—at North High School’s tennis courts.

Kathryn White

Experienced players can up their game as well, because instructors for this program come with a lengthy list of tennis credentials and decades of experience with the sport. The hourand- a-half sessions will take place Mondays through Thursdays with no advanced registration required.

Instruction will include everything from court awareness, scoring, drills, match play, point construction and tennis etiquette to tips for getting into the tennis industry through officiating and coaching. Tennis builds other qualities too: resilience, positive attitude, competitive spirit, and a sense of fair play.

The program, in its second year, is offered through a collaboration between City Park Racquet Club and the USTA Foundation’s National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network. The Denver program is one of over 250 NJTL chapters across the country.

Local executive director John Nelson and head pro Mark Martinez Luna met up on the North tennis courts recently to promote the summer program.

According to Luna, “It takes one year to learn tennis, three years to become a tennis player, and five to six years to develop the skills required for varsity team tennis.”

Nelson smiled and nodded, “That’s interesting,” he said to Luna, “I started playing tennis in 1972 and won my first tournament in 1978.”

Mark Martinez Luna and John Nelson teamed up to teach tennis for free at North High School in June and July. Photo by Kathryn White

Nelson and Luna emphasized that tennis is a sport for life. Nelson has clocked 50 years, so far, of playing and officiating, and Luna has made a 45-year career of teaching and coaching tennis across the U.S. Along with Nelson’s longtime love of tennis, he had a 43-year career as a clinical psychologist.

For Luna, tennis is also a family affair. In October 2020, featured Luna’s late father Daniel Luna Sr. for his extraordinary contributions in tennis, education, and public service. The elder Luna was the first Hispanic to win the CHSAA No. 1 singles state championship in 1950.

Luna siblings Mark and Susan both won No. 1 singles player at East High School. And Susan Luna has blended the family talent for art (as passed on by her mother Jessica M. Luna) with tennis through Lunapparel athleisure wear adorned with the artwork of another Luna brother, well-known local artist Daniel Luna.

Joining Mark Martinez Luna teaching at North this summer will be Teaching Pro Hannah Hinton, J.D., who began playing tennis at age five and went on to play Division I tennis at the University of Cincinnati. She is now vice president of audit and compliance at the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The three welcome tennis learners of all levels in addition to athletes from other sports who are looking for a summer cross-training activity. Tennis is great for athletes in soccer (footwork), basketball (court coverage, hand-eye coordination), track (endurance, sprinting), wrestling (one-on-one competition), football (tenacity), and gymnastics (balance).

The long game for Nelson and Luna? To increase the number of kids playing tennis, and to increase the number of kids going on to play tennis in college and professionally.

Nelson points out that the majority of tennis instruction in Denver (and elsewhere across the country) is concentrated in high-income areas of town and in pricey club settings. This limits access to even getting started in the sport and has resulted in a lack of diversity across the tennis industry.

Nelson highlights, also, that many players on college teams today come from outside the U.S.

According to, “Tennis has (a higher) percentage of foreign student athletes competing than any other NCAA sport.” The highest numbers of players from outside the U.S are in NCAA I tennis, at 63% of men’s teams and 62% of women’s teams in 2020, the most recent year tracked by the website.

Nelson and Luna hope to shift both of those trends as they share their passion for a sport they’ve invested their lives in.

In addition to inviting North Denver youth out to the courts this month, Nelson and Luna are looking for volunteers. You don’t need tennis skills to volunteer, just get in touch and come on out. Free Summer Tennis Seminars will be given from June 1 to July 30 at the North High School Tennis Courts, 2960 Speer Blvd. from 9-10:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and from 4-5:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays. People are encouraged to bring water, a hat, sunscreen, and court shoes. Rackets will be provided.

For more information, contact John Nelson at 303-747-4010 or

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