Column: Tennis has come a long way from days of Major Wingfield
With Wimbledon upon us I can't but help think of how the game I've learned to love came about and then spread across the world, creating a sport with an unspoken language that has broken barriers in every way possible.
Class, work, education, sex, color, language, age - all of them across the board.
All of these barriers can be bunched together and taken on in just one doubles match. You may have people of different sexes, from very educated to very little, from different counties of different dialects/color/religion, old and young - competing together. And no one really cares. You're there to enjoy the competition, get a little exercise, get to know one another to a certain degree and then go your merry way until the next time. The most important aspect is probably that the players are within the same ability level.
The thing is, after you're around this hodgepodge group that accumulates little by little they become your extended tennis family. And you slowly but surely do start to care about them.
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield created and then patented this game (1873/74) we now call tennis, and set some rules and court dimensions. The main game of the day was croquet. Both sexes could play it and were looking for more social outlets. Tennis fit the bill for the All-England Croquet - now Lawn Tennis Club - on Worple Road in the London area, and the new social outlet was a hit.
Boxed sets of racquets, balls, a net, posts and rules were sold and slowly made their way around the world.
Tennis came to the United States when Mary Outerbridge set up a court and games on Staten Island.
The first Wimbledon tournament was in 1877, the first U.S. Championships at Newport (R.I.) in 1881, Davis Cup in 1900, tennis was added to the Olympics, stadiums were built and the game took root in a major way.
Here in Prescott the first courts were probably built at the Iron Springs subdivision where the train used to bring wealthy residents of Phoenix to retreat from the heat of summer. They still have courts there. The old Hassayampa Country Club had two courts that were demolished when the new subdivision was built, and in the mid-1930s the four Armory tennis courts were built and used as the first public tennis courts in the area. They are still at that site today, used quite a lot and in very good condition, thanks to the City of Prescott and its Parks and Recreation Department.
Prescott High School started a tennis team and they played its matches at the Armory until the new high school was built in the early '70s and six courts were built on Ruth Street.
Yavapai College was created and, with the City of Prescott, built six courts on its campus in 1974, and soon after created a college tennis team for men and women.
The Prescott Racquet Club opened in 1985 and that brought seven more courts to the playing tennis contingency, as did the five courts at the Abia Judd/Granite Mountain school on Williamson Valley Road during that same time period.
Many subdivisions were built - Yavapai Hills (2 courts), Hidden Valley Ranch (4 courts), Haisley (2 courts), Prescott Resort (2 courts), Prescott Ranch (1 court), and the list continues to grow.
The Yavapai Tennis Association was formed in the early '70s and disbanded in 1986. The Prescott Area Tennis Association picked up the pieces in 1991 and thrives today with a great board, website and a voice for the game of tennis.
As the courts that were built in the 1970s and '80s age, their lifespan reaches maturity and many popular tennis sites start to decline, and some are closed.
Prescott High School bit the dust for a couple years with unplayable courts. The Yavapai College tennis facility was on the verge of being shut down. The five courts at Abia Judd are no longer in service. The Prescott Resort courts are now a parking lot, and many sites were/are in trouble.
We've had great tennis teams, players and coaches at Prescott High School over the years. Yavapai College boasted a few national-bound teams during the late '70s and early '80s. Some state champions in singles and doubles, nationally ranked players of all ages, and even Billie Jean King has frequented some of our tennis facilities over the years. But mainly it's just the everyday players who count the most.
Currently there are hundreds of people who play three to six times a week over 12 months and we happily report the facility at Yavapai College will soon be complete with seven new lighted courts that will last for decades of tennis pleasure. It's an inexpensive quality of life that makes a difference for so many.
Keeping up with facilities and programs is a constant. But for what the Major started and that all of us players still enjoy daily, the journey of tennis continues to thrive and be a great catalyst for a better life here in Prescott and around the world.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.