ASHLAND, Ky. — Keep your eye on the ball.

Children active in sports, especially baseball and tennis, hear the expression ad nauseum.

That phrase is precisely the most important duty for 100 or so young volunteers in the Braidy Industries $60,000 Women’s Tennis Classic this week at Ashland Tennis Center.

By Wednesday, the third full day of the tournament, Larra Ferguson and Julie Ditty Qualls were supervising a well-oiled machine.

“You see all these kids come out, and it just wouldn’t happen without them,” said Josh Qualls, the tournament director.

Ferguson, Russell’s girls tennis coach, teamed up with Ditty Qualls months ago to begin the process of accumulating “ball kids.” The 2019 response was even more favorable than last year, both in number and age.

“All the kids this year are over 10,” Ferguson said. “They just know what they’re doing out there better. … These kids have been troopers. Some of them are here from 9 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Ferguson estimated 30 ball kids have worked full days every day. Approximately 40 kids work in a given day. A large portion of them are high school or college students.

Ditty Qualls said parents of prospective volunteers were initially hesitant to express the level of their children’s commitment.

“A lot of the parents are like, we’re not sure if they want to do it or not, and now they want to be here every day,” Ditty Qualls said.

Ferguson and Ditty Qualls assembled a schedule that places three to four kids on each one of the four courts simultaneously. Typically, there is one on each end of the court and one or two adjacent to the net in the middle.

“They’re on 30 minutes, off 30 minutes,” Ferguson said. “It’s continuous all day long.”

Ferguson appoints leaders to each group. Maci and Mia Ferguson, Larra’s daughters, are a couple of those leaders.

Ball kids, all wearing royal blue shirts, come from all over the tri-state area.

“Some of them play on their high school teams, some of them did clinics I taught this summer,” Ditty Qualls said.

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