Sports academy has big-name appeal

LAKEWOOD RANCH — A car-load of pre-teens, teens and adult chaperones pulled up Wednesday at the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center and all waved excitedly at a smiling, muscular man pulling a loaded tennis ball cart.

He was South African Johan Kriek, winner of the 1981 and 1982 Australian Open.

Kriek’s big match these days is not with Vitas Gerulaitis, Roscoe Tanner or John McEnroe. It’s in Lakewood Ranch.

His goal is to develop a world-class tennis program at the proposed 600,000-square-foot Spring Bok Academy and Spa, which is slated to open adjacent to The Lake Club, two miles east of Lorraine Road on University Parkway.

Even though Spring Bok is at least a year or so away, Kriek began teaching tennis skills to youngsters in Lakewood Ranch within the past week.

Many say his name will lend instant credibility to the project, which reportedly will include academies for swimming, gymnastics, tennis, golf, bowling and other sports.

“He was a Top 10 player in the world,” said Paul Lederman, director of the Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center. “From what I have seen watching him teach, he is upbeat and controls the court. I hope what all this means is that it will bring Lakewood Ranch to the international level.”

When Kriek and his reputation join forces with Spring Bok’s promised cutting-edge amenities, will it usurp Bradenton’s IMG Academies as top gun among training academies?

Many, including Kriek, said the competition could be valuable for everyone.

“We’re not afraid of competition,” Kriek said. “It’s good.”

Rita Mangrum, a member of Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center, said if Spring Bok sparks curiosity, that will be good for tennis.

“It will bring more tennis players out,” Mangrum said of the proposed facility. “You’ll have a completely new facility here with newer features so people will check it out.”

Bob Luxembourg, who is known as “Mr. Tennis” in the area, said he hopes Spring Bok builds a stadium court for tournaments.

There’s no word on that yet.

All in all, IMG should feel honored, said Lakewood Ranch resident Sherri Krug.

“The biggest form of flattery is to have someone copy you,” said Krug, who was at Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center on Wednesday helping out as her twin 6-year-old sons, Connor and Jake, took tennis lessons from tennis pro Chris Marquez. “This tells you that IMG’s model must be working.”

Krug should know. She trained at IMG Academies from 1985 to 1992, honing her skills as a tennis player.

Those lessons helped her win state high school tennis titles four straight years while at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School.

Krug said she believes many will be attracted to Spring Bok for its amenities and the chance to try something new.

But others will stick with IMG’s proven record of success.

“Who’s to say someone has to win and someone has to lose in this,” she said. “I see them both benefiting.”

Krug said long-time IMG tennis coaches like Chip Brooks and Jose Lambert are hard to top.

“Nick Bollettieri has done a fantastic job,” Krug said of IMG’s founder. “Being surrounded every day with coaches and fellow students who were as passionate about the sport as me made all the difference. You never had to worry about finding someone to hit with.”

Krug’s father is Dick Vitale, and Vitale and Bollettieri are good friends. So IMG has a leg up in the battle for Connor and Jake.

Calls to IMG for comment on the proposed new training facility were not returned.

Others agreed with Krug that the town was big enough for two sheriffs.

“This area is so big that you need a place on the west coast and the east coast,” said Lakewood Ranch Athletic Center tennis coach Calvin Cole, referring to “west” Bradenton and “east” Manatee.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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