Column: Making tennis happen in a small town no easy feat
Are we lucky or what? Most all of you reading this column live in or around the magical town of Prescott and it has a lot going for it, and if you're a tennis player it's never been better. Our public tennis facilities are second to none, but it hasn't always been that way.
In the not too distant past we had our six courts at Prescott High School shut down because they were too dangerous to play on. The Yavapai College courts were in a similar state, with cracks large enough on most of the courts to warrant a small army of volunteers to work each spring fixing them so they were safe and wouldn't be locked up. And the same was true of many of the private subdivision courts that had been built in the late '70s to late '80s.
The tennis boom of the 1970s created a great interest in the sport of tennis all around the country and many public tennis facilities were built, but there wasn't much thought given to what would take place 18 to 20 years later when those asphalt courts would need to be replaced.
Here in Prescott the City Fathers spent thousands of dollars on the four Armory courts off of Gurley Street, and rebuilt the courts with new fences and an Omni-surface of synthetic grass with sand mixed in. It's easy on the legs, wears well and needs very little maintenance.
About eight years ago the Prescott High School six-court tennis facility was torn out and replaced from the ground up. My only regret is that it wasn't done with post-tensioned concrete, because the life of asphalt is 18 to 20 years and concrete is 70-plus years. Yes, you have to repaint the surface every five to seven years, but with asphalt the material dries out and cracks open. In about 12 years the surface at the high school will need to be dealt with again; will there be the money to do it?
Tennis coach and tennis professional Sterling Fetty runs a great and thriving junior academy at the high school facility on a year-round basis. Those courts have gone from, in the past, little use and much abuse to lots of daily use and pride. Building a tennis shed at that site about 10 years ago made a big difference as well as an open-minded athletic director who could see what could take place as to what had up until that point.
Yavapai College did it right with the seven-court post-tensioned concrete complex it opened about seven months ago and the residents of Prescott can be proud of the look, playability, durability and years that this facility will hold up - not to mention the reservation system, small fee structure, low maintenance and management/programing that seems to be working well so far.
There are more programs for all levels of players to easily jump in to, instruction through college classes and open clinics and private lessons. Morning, afternoon and evening play is available, four weekend tournaments and six one-day Grand Prix's for all ability levels, USTA league teams and open play. The college tennis website is yc.edu/tennis, where you can find out all the information this facility provides, make reservations and more.
There aren't many small public facilities that run cost-effectively and provide all of the above and also provide a system to reserve court times. Yavapai College will most likely be looked at as a proto-type for other facilities around the country to emulate.
Prescott has a wonderful local tennis association, the Prescott Area Tennis Association, which helps speak for tennis in the area. Its mission statement is to promote the game and it certainly does that. Its website, prescotttennis.com, gives players all the information they need to learn how to get involved with the game and its local outlets - for juniors, adults, senior and super-seniors.
Over the years the PATA has been the voice heard when public courts needed help. They also provided volunteer help in maintaining facilities, building programs, running tournaments, building backboards, tennis sheds, patios, adding benches and trash cans, funding and helping to run and promote youth programs, and it continues today under strong leadership.
Many of the subdivisions that have tennis facilities are doing well today, due to the fact that they have tennis chairmen/women who oversee their tennis facilities with good maintenance/budgets as well as programs. It wasn't always that way.
"Build it and they will come" used to be a common quote - but you'd better think it through before you do. All facilities should be maintained, used properly, paid for by the user, and enjoyed to their fullest potential.
What will the future bring or better yet, what should it bring in regard to tennis in our area?
Any courts rebuilt should be in post-tensioned concrete. The Armory courts should have a shed to house a tennis pro and run programs. All public courts need to have a small user fee to help off-set the costs of maintaining the courts - but remain free to kids 17 and younger.
Prescott Lakes should build one more tennis courts and have an in-house pro. Hidden Valley, as they revamp their courts from asphalt to concrete, should bring in a tennis pro (they make their own money but with a good contract) to help keep the facility busy with their local residents and good programming. Pickleball facilities should be built separately and not infringe upon tennis facilities both publicly and privately.
It also would be nice to have Embry-Riddle build more of a tennis facility and start a tennis team. And Prescott Valley should start talks about creating a tennis facility for its population base; the school district in the town needs to upgrade the only six courts that are open to students there while opening it to the public - maybe a town/school district partnership?
Things are moving along nicely with the sport we love, let's keep the ball rolling in that direction.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.