Written by Dana Andrews, USTA Florida President

Where did you first start playing tennis? Was it in your driveway hitting a ball against the garage door? Or perhaps on a backboard or court at your public tennis park?

I know for my father, BA Grubbs, he started playing with his father at Raleigh Court Park in Roanoke, Va. I started at the age of 10 at what is now known as the Cal Dickson Tennis Center in Tampa. Upon moving to Pittsburgh, I continued hitting with my dad at Frick Park. Then with his move to Jacksonville, I continued playing the game at Boone Park.

One of the things I enjoyed most in traveling with my daughter to junior tennis tournaments was visiting the public tennis facilities throughout the state. For example, Lake Cane Tennis Center, the home of board member Marcelo Gouts; Tom Brown Park in Tallahassee, the Beerman Family Tennis Center in Lakeland, and Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, where high school tennis would battle for the state title.

Although COVID-19 created challenges in 2020, one positive is the Physical Activity Council (PAC) has found that tennis participation in the US increased by 22%. The report also documented 3 million first-time players in 2020 – a 44% increase over new players in 2019. Also documented was a large increase of players returning to the sport in 2020.

We have learned through several studies that tennis has been recognized as an ideal social distancing sport. In the July 2020 edition of the Journal of Medicine and Science in Tennis, it found that those who play tennis have higher physical, social, and mental health scores than the general population. I do not know about you, but I will take all the help I can get!

It is the position of USTA Florida that the influx of new players and returning players are a key to growing the game in Florida and throughout the US. We are of the opinion that public parks are going to play an invaluable role in providing players increased access to the sport that we love. It is imperative that we as an organization support the parks and recreation departments throughout the state to the best of our ability. With our partnership with USPTA Florida, we also recognize the need to support providers in the public parks space.

This year a Public Parks and Recreation Committee was added to the USTA Florida strategic plan. Wendy Tatum, who serves as the Director of Tennis and Pickle Ball at the Palm Beach Gardens Tennis Center and oversees all operations, is the chairperson of the committee. She has shared that some of the goals of the committee are (1) collaborate with the parks facilities to help add adaptive programming, staff development, overall support; (2) enlist USPTA Florida District Presidents to reach out to the parks in their area to assist with the process of pro certification opportunities.

USTA Florida is leading the way in working in conjunction with parks over the last several years under the guidance of Frank Swope, Director of Tennis Management. The organization manages facilities and has resurrected facilities currently in Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville, and Cocoa Beach. USTA Florida recognized that if public parks are not available for players, then how can we grow the game?

So do not waste another minute – don’t walk, but run, to your nearest public tennis park and introduce a friend to a game that can be played safely during a pandemic and for a lifetime!