Dreaming of a greatness at Mast

Published 9:47 pm Friday, June 2, 2017

By John Carr

Janice Henderson has a vision for Suffolk’s Mast Tennis Center. Janice is a former college player, occasional USTA tournament player and the city’s resident tennis professional. The tennis center is located at Lake Meade Park on Main Street.

With 10 courts, four of which are lighted, a grass field and a covered sitting area, it is already more than most small and mid-sized communities offer. It stops just short of being great, but Janice would like to see it get there.

Email newsletter signup

Community tennis seems to be taking off in recent years, and it makes sense. Tennis is inexpensive to get started in. For $30 you can have a new racket and three cans of balls. Add some sort of court shoe and shorts, and you are all set.

And everyone can play tennis. Few sports are enjoyable for such wide range of players. At busier tennis centers and clubs, it is common to see with three generations of families participating.

The Mast Center is open to all, and there are junior leagues, clinics and camps for kids. For adults, there are clinics with drills Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Friday night rally play.

About 30 youngsters are signed up for the junior league right now, and the Friday night rally usually has about 20 participants. This sounds like good participation, but Janice wants to see more.

She especially would love to see three changes: Add a couple clay courts. Replace the trailer that serves as an office. And add an enclosure that would allow winter and bad-weather play.

Clay courts are much easier on the joints. Some older players or those with past injuries will play only on clay to avoid discomfort. Some aggressive younger players like clay, because they want to slide like Rafael Nadal.

Clay attracts more regular players, and two new courts could fit perfectly in the center quad area.

Replacing the trailer also would draw more players. Trailers don’t age well, and the one at Mast looks like a temporary solution that was forgotten. Its condition may be a deterrent to some players.

Setting aside a potentially costly tennis enclosure, moving the tennis center from good to great should be a bargain.

Ideally, the facility would have an office, a small shop and, perhaps, decent locker rooms. It could be locked after hours, with public bathrooms accessible from outside. Add a nice covered deck for shade and spectators, and the Mast Center would be transformed.

During the course of a few years, new revenue could more than pay for the upgrades.

Revenue could come from adding two or three USTA-sanctioned tournaments for adults and juniors each year. Each tournament would bring a weekend influx of players, who would bring families, stay in hotels and eat out for every meal. In their down time between matches, they would pursue shopping and entertainment.

It’s easy to imagine a visiting family adding hundreds of dollars a day into the local economy. With only a couple of big events a year, it would not take long for an investment in the tennis center to start being a net gain for the city, especially for the eateries, hotels and shops around downtown, Main Street and Godwin Boulevard.

But Janice sees the benefit to residents as the real end game. She imagines a facility with active after-school programs, summer camps with more participation, and league play for both adults and juniors. In a perfect world the courts would be active most of the time, but still have availability for casual walk-on players.

I hope the tennis center’s future includes a few upgrades. It would be a lot of fun to see such a solid platform get the finishing touches to make it truly stand out.

In the meantime, it is still better than most communities can offer, so come out and hit or contact Janice to see what program you might enjoy most. Email her at jhenderson@suffolkva.us.

John Carr is the publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald and a poor tennis player. Email him at john.carr@suffolknewsherald.com.