Club Tennis at Its Finest
A recreational tennis junkie says the sport is the “great equalizer.”
By Jeff Lewis
“Can I speak with the doctor?” I asked over the phone. “He’s with a patient at the moment and will probably be tied up for the rest of the afternoon,” the administrative assistant replied. “Is this an emergency?”
“Oh no,” I answered. “I only wanted to see if he could play tennis later today.”
“Hold on,” she responded quickly. “He’ll be right with you.”
Such is the power of tennis at the recreational level, which often makes for strange bedfellows. It’s not uncommon to see a surgeon competing against a pipe fitter or a professor of economics exchanging fierce rallies with a receptionist at the local school.
The courts are an equal opportunity employer, per se, and do not discriminate against anyone. In essence, it’s part of the beauty of the sport. No one cares where you work, just whether or not you can lob effectively or hit a backhand down the line. While there are those who may feel uncomfortable mingling with society’s upper class at a country-club cocktail party or discussing opera at a theater fundraiser, competition on the courts brings people closer together.
In fact, tennis can be considered the “great equalizer.” Once that first ball is served, all social inhibitions vanish quickly and no one, not even a former governor (in one club’s case), is exempt from a little good-natured teasing should they dink a volley.
Of course, elite tennis clubs with prohibitive membership dues and excessive court fees tend to perpetuate the notion that the sport is beyond the reach of middle-class America. However, outdoor facilities such as my club, the Scranton (Pa.) Tennis Club, do everything within their power to ensure that this great activity is accessible to virtually anyone who has the desire to pick up a racquet and hit a ball over a net.
Although somewhat unique in its operational structure, the Scranton Tennis Club embodies what tennis is — or should be — all about. As a nonprofit entity, the club is not bent on making a large profit margin. On the contrary, the club exists on a shoestring budget and seeks only to keep its head above water each year.
With modest dues (an adult membership costs $280) and no court fees, the club’s laid-back policy has kept it solvent for more than 75 years, and has attracted rock ‘n’ roll band members and even the aforementioned former governor. Club members appreciate the reasonable fees and do their part to keep costs to a minimum by helping the one-man grounds crew/tennis pro sweep the Har-Tru courts and dust off the lines.
During the tennis boom of the 1970s, the club actually capped its membership at 220 to ensure plenty of court time for its active members. However, as activities such as golf grew in popularity, tennis clubs around the country began to see a drastic decline in membership. The Scranton Tennis Club was no exception and faced some pretty lean years of empty courts.
Thanks to innovative marketing strategies, such as the creation of nighttime leagues for all levels of play along with a free instructional clinic each week, the club has rebounded nicely and now is eerily reminiscent of the “good old days.” As you drive into the club you immediately notice a parking lot full of cars, with the latest model BMW parked next to a Ford Focus with rust on its underbelly.
The porch, which serves as the gathering point for members to match up for singles, doubles and mixed doubles, is usually filled on weekends with people from all backgrounds who discuss everything from politics to poetry to plumbing. Here, everyone’s on a first-name basis.
Recently a retired ENT physician was engaged in a heated debate with a high-school English teacher over the best way to rid a backyard of pesky groundhogs. A patent attorney chimed in with her opinion, as did the private airline pilot, but ultimately it was the pest-control specialist who had the final say.
A veteran 4.5 club player, Jeff Lewis was also a successful high school tennis coach for many years. He continues to play regularly and writes frequently about his favorite sport for a variety of magazines and newspapers.
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