Why tennis is important to your community — and how you can acquire funding to build new or renovate your existing courts.
A while ago, one of my tennis buddies e-mailed to casually announce she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Because I’m a public park and recreation tennis facility coordinator, she thought I would be able to connect her with other players who had gone through the same experience she was about to endure.
She wanted to keep playing, even through chemotherapy. Tennis might be just a game for some folks, but for her, the racquet and ball illuminated a bright light at the end of a scary tunnel. She looked to me for assistance. Did I know anyone she could hit with?
More than 30 million people play the game of tennis, making it one of the fastest growing sports around. Over the past nine years, participation is up by 43 percent.
Formats and programs exist to accommodate all types of players, from the very young to senior citizens, from recreational players to advanced competitive ones, from wheelchair to Special Olympics to patients enduring cancer treatments. Tennis is a sport enjoyed by people from all walks of life at every income level. And like my friend, its players want more from the game than scoring points or winning matches.
So, what do tennis players want? For starters, they’re seeking more than a plain old hobby. They want physical exercise, social outlets, mental challenges and an opportunity to compete. They want to lose weight, tone muscles or network for their businesses. Parents want a sport that builds character and underscores sportsmanship while addressing the individual needs of the entire family. And, players want all of this on clean, safe courts, preferably with facilities equipped with amenities: showers, lockers, racquet stringing, and a pro shop.
Because tennis is a mental game requiring physical execution (formats for both individual and team play), tennis answers all of these wants — and then some. With nearly 70 percent of the game being played on public courts, the ability for park and recreation professionals to fulfill these wants is significant.
Today’s economy has many of us tightening our belts. The rising costs of traveling find many looking for alternative ways to spend free time, avoiding expensive vacations and frivolous expenditures. Neighborhood courts or a town tennis facility allow community members to stay close to home while remaining physically active in a fun, social environment.
Players aren’t the only ones who gain. Communities with programmed courts — active courts with clinics, classes, drills, tournaments and league play — pump millions of dollars back into the economy. For instance, Larry Fortson, formerly with the Macon (Ga.) Parks and Recreation Department, says, “With approximately 20 tournaments held at our two tennis centers, the convention and visitors bureau estimates 10,000 visitors and an economic impact of more than $2.7 million annually.”
Players often extend their tennis time to after-match meals or drinks at nearby restaurants. Tournaments bring out-of-town players who book hotel rooms, purchase meals, and buy items at retail outlets, thus helping out local businesses, as well as contributing to a city’s local option sales tax. A $2.7 million gig rings loud in the ears of those who need convincing before they sign away $700,000: the cost of renovating the city’s 24 courts.
Searching for the right spot, the town of Cary, N.C., constructed its main facility near the local high school. Now, not only are phys-ed tennis classes taught on real courts, the high school tennis team has bona fide “home” courts. In return, the tennis facility uses the high school’s parking lot during large events. Fitting the two needs together enabled the town to tackle solutions in cost-effective ways.
Furthermore, having one premier location allowed the town to streamline staff — for instance, maintenance crews and facility staffing. “The locker rooms stay cleaned,” says Mary Henderson, director of Cary Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources. “Landscaping is immaculate. Best of all, Cary community tennis players have one central location to meet and play. Before, we had a few sites scattered throughout the town.”
Build or Renovate
But what if your town doesn’t already have tennis courts? Or what if your existing courts need major renovations in order to host tournaments and provide programs?
You’ll want to start by defining clear and concise objectives. Include positive effects the community will experience once the proposal is completed. Seeing a comprehensive plan from start to finish can prove daunting. Losing focus — getting bogged down in red tape or caught in unforeseen wrinkles — can sometimes mean failure to complete the task.
Installing new courts and resurfacing old ones cost money. A six-digit outlay is certain to bolster intense discussions, especially if you have to “sell” your idea to the city council or non-tennis-playing residents. Knowing precisely the desired end results strengthens your focus as well as gives you the ability to nudge those who have gone astray.
Research other cities that have realized similar goals. How did they accomplish their tasks? Did they run into bumps in the road? What were their solutions? Learn from the “mistakes” of others when designing your own pathways.
Next, gather your stats. Your local convention and visitors bureau is a great place to start. The CVB has likely developed formulas to determine the economic impact your programmed courts bring to the area. Another resource worth looking into is your local Community Tennis Association. CTAs keep records on participation. Use these figures when assembling your data. Numbers add weight to your presentations and can underscore the overall success of your monetary requests.
Then, investigate possible methods of achievement. While tedious, skipping this step may prove disastrous. Take the time to examine city policies and procedures. Organize necessary initial presentations and documentation with a conscious effort at adhering to municipal guidelines.
While you’re at it, stop by your local park and recreation agency’s administrative office to look over the master plan; every city has one. It’s a complex, thorough overview containing the department’s mission, visions, goals and roles in the community. Included should be a map of available land and recommended uses for it, as well as a budget with suggested allocations. Your department might already have property or funding set aside for a new tennis facility.
“Some of the legwork may already be done for you. No sense duplicating efforts,” says Robin Jones, who works closely with the USTA on advocacy initiatives. Jones, who is also founding president of the Cary Community Tennis Association, worked closely with the Cary Parks and Recreation Department as it opened its 30-court public facility.
The Buddy System
Identify the benefactors, and record specific advantages each would reap, along with losses felt if your project was unable to make it to completion. Allied organizations will assist in a variety of ways, including lobbying for money or constituency support; preparing grants, reports and presentations; organizing fundraising events, or making donations.
Carl Hodge, Macon Parks and Recreation’s tennis director, says it’s important to recognize who gains. “Sure, tennis players will use the courts,” says Hodge, “but what about the local businesses that will profit when players frequent their establishments after matches? What about the county and city itself?” Other organizations such as local schools, the USTA and area private clubs also stand to gain, especially in terms of increased participation.
When compiling your list of possible partners, don’t forget the following:
Governing agencies and nonprofit associations.
Programs such as the Tennis In the Parks, from the National Recreation and Park Association and partner USTA, are front-runners in the support of tennis advocacy. Both organizations offer an array of assistance, tackling problems from many angles in their pursuits to grow the game. The USTA is a huge resource for marketing support, technical assistance, access to funding and grants, and more.
A must-have on your list, the USTA offers grants such as the USTA Public Facility Funding grant and the Adopt-a-Court grant, as well as many resources online (visit usta.com and thebigserve.usta.com). And don’t forget to contact your USTA Section office too — many offer additional assistance and grants.
Local Community Tennis Associations.
CTAs, run by local tennis advocates, are your inside track to the tennis world in your neighborhood. They shape the foundation of any thriving tennis community. They know what your courts need, are familiar with available grants, and can assist with programming when your mission is accomplished.
One CTA in Virginia, the Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta Tennis Association, or SWAT, decided to financially support Waynesboro’s efforts to replace its five 40-year-old courts. SWAT and the city’s park and rec department hooked up to secure $41,000 in NRPA-USTA and Virginia tennis grants. Initial attempt to gain financial backing from the Waynesboro City Council, some five years earlier, had failed. But with the newly obtained resources, coupled with SWAT’s promise to help program the courts, the project got the go-ahead.
Universities and colleges.
Merge efforts with neighboring colleges. “The college connection is a cool hook,” says Larry Zerbe, director of tennis for the park and recreation department in Reading, Pa. Zerbe needed new courts as well as expansions for rundown facilities. Reading teamed up with two colleges, both offering different resources. The Alvernia College tennis team needed home courts, and the city’s Angelica Park tennis facilities needed upgrades and expansions. For the use of the Angelica courts, Alvernia promised to take care of the upgrades.
A similar deal exists between Albright College and the city of Reading. The courts on Albright’s campus needed nets, scorekeepers, and so forth. Reading needed a place to instruct inner-city youngsters. Reading Parks and Recreation and Albright College both walked away winners: The city purchased and maintains the campus courts in order to host programs for participants who might not otherwise pick up a racquet.
Local businesses offer services and trade-outs, and want to distribute advertisements, banners, fliers, and coupons at your centers. In addition, they want to be able to say they are giving back to the community.
Local private tennis clubs.
These establishments benefit in the way of increased participation. A resident may pick up a racquet at a local USTA Block Party, but join a private club offering clay courts or other benefits. Local clubs want the run-off traffic from public courts.
Take advantage of your “personnel” resources. No one better understands the gifts of tennis than those standing front and center, with racquet in hand. Players will volunteer to organize fundraisers, lobby council and county commissioners for support, and donate money or services.
Game, Set, Match
Tennis is a unique lifelong sport accessible to almost everyone, surpassing the boundaries of age, gender, and income level — and even mental and physical impairments.
There’s no question that building new courts and refurbishing old ones is a colossal undertaking filled with bumps and frustrations. But, in the words of one agency director, “Our new courts are a blessing to the community, and, with the partnerships we’ve developed, I believe they will be a satisfying source for our community for years to come.”
See all articles by Robin Bateman
About the Author
Robin Bateman is the site coordinator for the Tattnall Tennis Center in Macon, Ga., where she coordinates tennis program and leagues, is a tournament director, serves as a team captain, and assists junior teams competing at district, regional, and section events.