Desiree Marshall played basketball and softball in high school, but in the years since graduation, she’d gotten out of the fitness habit.

“I’d been looking for something to do to stay in shape, and running’s never been my thing,” Marshall said.

When she saw signs for tennis lessons at the YMCA, she said, she decided to check it out, though she’d never played tennis before.

She’d been working out at the YMCA, and she wanted her fitness plan to be more than just physical activity.

“I do everything I can to continue to try and better myself. I want to keep learning, always,” she said. Marshall only began playing in September 2012, she said, and has taken lessons at Lamar Tennis Center, 8100 YMCA Plaza Drive, next to the Paula G. Manship YMCA just off Perkins Road.

“I was so nervous before the first lesson,” she said. “I hit the first ball over the fence,” she said laughing.

While she’s still rated a beginner according to United States Tennis Association rankings, she said she’s gotten considerably more comfortable on the court.

“I did a lot of clinics and drills. I like that you can concentrate on drills and it translates to skills in the game,” she said. If you dedicate enough time to practice, moves become more and more reflexive, she said, which she liked because it was satisfying in the same way high school sports had been.

“It’s a physical challenge, but it keeps my mind occupied, too,” she said. “I can go to the Y and spend an hour on the elliptical machine, and maybe burn 600 calories, and I’m bored. If I spent an hour playing tennis, I look at my watch and I’ve burned 1,000, without even thinking about it.”

Playing also gave her more confidence, she said. She learned to trust her skills, and lost about 50 pounds, she said. A little more than two years later, she’s captain of her own beginning level USTA team, the Mid-Court Crisis.

A few courts away, Aaron LaRose recently played his first doubles game of the Baton Rouge USTA season. He’s been an athlete for most of his life, playing both baseball and football in high school, and after graduating college, Australian Rules Football with the Baton Rouge Tigers. While he had a great time playing, and while it kept him fit and satisfied his competitive nature, he decided to find a less demanding, less expensive way to stay in shape.

LaRose’s wife had played volleyball and softball in high school, and took tennis lessons, he said.

“I wanted to do something that wasn’t too expensive, and that we could do together,” he said, so he, like Marshall, signed up for the YMCA’s Tennis Apprentice Program at the Y’s Lamar Tennis Center.

Tennis wasn’t completely new to him, LaRose said.

“I played recreationally in high school, so I was just brushing up on fundamentals,” he said. Ever since, he’s been playing a few times a week, including round-robin tournaments at Lamar, his Baton Rouge USTA games starting this week, and he and his wife are members at The Legacy at Bonne Esperance, where they play each other regularly.

LaRose said apart from being a great way to get and stay in shape, tennis provides a lower-impact means of being competitive. It’s also a mental game, he said.

“The one thing that makes tennis unique, to me, is that every set wipes the slate clean. Once one set ends, you start over — it’s psychologically different from other games, where you can get behind and have to catch up,” LaRose said.

Ronnie Walters, who runs the tennis programs for the YMCA, believes in clean slates, and the YMCA’s mission of a faith-based commitment to healthy living. The Y’s Lamar Tennis Center offers both tennis lessons, and the five-week Tennis Apprentice Program, where LaRose and Marshall got started.

For those who want a taste of the game, Walters said the apprentice program is a good, low-cost option, no matter what your experience level. Group lessons run one per week for five weeks, on Tuesday evenings.

“The classes are structured to give brief instruction on technique, then incorporating playing points, then games. By the fifth class, the players are actually playing sets of singles and doubles,” Walters said.

“It’s a great, lifelong way to stay fit, it only requires two people and it’s a way to be social,” Walters said. “Learning in a fun way how to score and play is the focus, and we have found this is what helps keep them in tennis.”

Once the sessions are over, the program provides a yearlong USTA membership, and helps students put together teams for adult league play.

Sessions, which cost $60, run through the summer, beginning with the first on March 10 to April 7. Other sessions begin May 19, June 30 and Sept. 29. For information, visit, or call the Lamar Tennis Center, (225) 612-2420.