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Fort Lauderdale Hosts Historic National Public Parks Tennis Championships

August 7, 2007 01:46 PM

By T.A. Niles

Although the winners of the 49 events are to be commended for their efforts in the sweltering heat of the South Florida summer, the 81st National Public Parks Tennis Championships (NPPTC) hosted by the City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida was about far more than wins and losses. This year’s NPPTC highlighted the sustained commitment and the enduring relationships among the entities that are responsible for the growth and integrity of the game of tennis, and those who are charged with creating opportunities for the country’s citizens to engage in recreational activities that promote overall health and well being.

A collaborative effort amongst the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the National Public Parks Tennis Association (NPPTA), and the City of Fort Lauderdale, the 81st NPPTC served up a smorgasbord of tennis related activities for event participants and guests. Cardio Tennis, Beach Tennis, and One-On-One Doubles offerings energized the event atmosphere and emphasized the combination of fun, fitness, and competition, a combination that is the cornerstone of public parks programming, and perhaps a major factor in the game’s revival.

The average tennis fan may not recognize the importance of public park facilities and programming to the state of the game, and the average citizen may not be aware of the central role tennis plays in program offerings for public recreation facilities. However, it is clear that the USTA, the City of Fort Lauderdale, and a growing number of private clubs and municipalities across the country are certain of the mutual benefits to be gained from forging relationships among the game’s governing bodies, municipal recreational programs, and country club constituents.

As Executive Director for the USTA Texas section, and President of the NPPTA, Ken McAllister may be as representative of such relationships as anyone. Although he doesn’t directly attribute the resurgence of tennis over the past few years to tennis in public parks, he acknowledges that public tennis facilities play a major role.

“We know that 80% of all tennis players come out of public facilities so the more we can continue to grow that, obviously the bigger we can become in tennis in general.”

In commenting about the tournament, McAllister’s eyes lit up and his enthusiasm for the event was obvious. “It’s one for the public folks…although everyone is welcome…it’s like a great mix of all the people who may play without their shirts…it’s a fun, smiling kind of atmosphere with the public parks folks. That’s why it’s so important to me.” 

That “great mix” to which McAllister referred was certainly evident at this year’s NPPTC, with over 500 players representing 13 USTA sections, over 20 states, and seven countries. USTA Florida may have dominated in number of participants and event winners, but the spirit of Dwight Davis, founder of the NPPTA, and his vision of bringing people of varied backgrounds together was the true winner. 

There was no finer example of Davis’s dream brought to fruition than that of the NPPTC’s Bermudan contingent. Brent Smith of Manders Island Tennis Academy (MITA) in Bermuda and his wife Nahtasha brought several junior players to the NPPTC. Smith is the grand nephew of Cromwell Manders, a tennis pioneer in Bermuda whose efforts paralleled Dwight Davis’ intentions in the US when Davis founded the NPPTA. According to Smith, “We are trying to continue what the late Cromwell Manders started in the 60's which was taking tennis to the masses in Bermuda.” It was in efforts to take tennis to the masses in this country that Dwight Davis began his public parks campaign in the 1920s with the crown jewel of his efforts being the NPPTC.

Nicholas Butterfield of Southampton, and Domico Watson of Devonshire, Bermuda played singles and doubles at the NPPTC. Asked how he felt about his experience in the Boys 16s, Butterfield responded, “I thought it was good. I met so many players. I had a good experience.” The two teamed to reach the finals of Boys 18s doubles where they lost to fellow Bermudans Jason Ebbin and Leonard F. Wade. Home courts for the MITA and the Bermudan contingent? The W.E.R. Joell Tennis Stadium in Bernard Park, Pembroke, Bermuda, a public facility.

Perhaps the signature moment of the 81st NPPTC was the Player Gala at the War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park, home of the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center. In addition to the great music and Match Point Tennis fashion show, awards were presented to the City of Fort Lauderdale for their long-standing support of tennis in their public parks; to Jimmy Evert in appreciation and commemoration of the 50 years the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center has contributed to the growth and development of the game; and to Chris Evert, one of the greatest players to emerge from a public parks tennis program.

Since the inception of the Jimmy Evert Tennis Center in 1958, Fort Lauderdale’s Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale has been its host. This public tennis facility has produced more celebrated tennis professionals (ex. Chris Evert and Jennifer Capriati) than any other public venue in the country. Vince Gizzi, superintendent of parks & recreation for City of Fort Lauderdale, accepted the award on behalf of the City, and lauded the work Whitney Kraft, Tom Krukiel, Debbie Bylica and Ben Kingsley put into the NPPTC and tennis programming year round.

Collette Evert accepted the award on behalf of husband Jimmy, who couldn’t be present, and Jeanne Evert accepted on behalf of sister Chris Evert, who was presented the Gene Scott Renaissance Award. Prior to the award presentation, Marcia Bach, Park and Recreation Coordinator for the USTA, and Past President of the NPPTA, noted the significance of the Gene Scott award: “Gene represented all there is about passion for public parks. His ideals were his roots in the public parks. He grew up playing in the public parks.”













Being affiliated with NPPTA for 30 years and serving many of those as President of the organization, Bach is another icon of the bridge between the game’s governing body and public parks tennis. Regarding the award recipient, she asserted, “Chris Evert was the perfect choice for Fort Lauderdale,” because the award goes to “a highly recognized player whose passion has been in the parks.”

No one is more passionate about public parks tennis than USTA Community Coordinator Cheryl Rivera. Rivera exudes enthusiasm for the Tennis in the Parks (TIP) program, a collaborative effort since 1998 between the USTA and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). Her mantra, as she travels her area bringing municipalities on board, is “It starts in the parks,” the TIP slogan. In her three years with USTA Florida serving Broward County, Boca Raton and Delray Beach, Rivera has found local municipalities “very receptive.” She explained, “I’m slowly making headway…going into all communities, exposing tennis, and not just the country club environment.”

According to the Tennis in the Parks 2007 Resource Guide, “over 1000 agencies are recognized as Tennis in the Parks agencies,” and those facilities serviced over 3.5 million tennis players in 2006.

Based upon the Sporting Goods Manufacturer Association (SGMA), 2007 USA Sports Participation Study, which tracks 114 sports, the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) states, “tennis has grown 12.2% in the last 6 years, 10% more than its nearest rivals.” From all indications (equipment sales, television viewership, and frequency of play), tennis is on the upswing and public parks programs and facilities certainly contribute to that.

NPPTC Tournament Director and outgoing Director of Tennis for the City of Fort Lauderdale, Whitney Kraft, was in the ideal position to comment on the success of initiatives to bring country club players and public parks players together. Regarding the event participants, he stated, “We did draw some atypical tournament players…NTRP [players] that were more of a private club players. The people that are playing within private clubs can see the benefits of public tennis and the vitality that’s out there…”

Kraft also pointed to league competition as an integrator of public and private tennis: “The USTA leagues are comprised of many private clubs playing public parks. You are getting a real nice mix. I don’t think tennis players consciously even look at the difference anymore.”  Kraft also called the event participants “a fraternity of players,” and suggested that a great deal of his satisfaction with the NPPTC came from the tournament’s diversity. “We had players as young as seven and as old as 86, so you had this competitive cross generational event going on that had a real family feel to it. The family events really made it,” he offered.

Surely Dwight Davis would be pleased to hear such sentiments. In the wake of the 81st National Public Parks Tennis Championships we can reflect upon a historical event that continues to showcase the skills of some of the best players in the country. We can also celebrate the fact that the distinction between public parks and country club tennis is becoming increasingly blurred as players of diverse origins come together to enjoy the game we love.








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