Time to take action for more courts and better courts

Large cracks on a tennis court

Hey Boulder area tennis players (and tennis parents)… One of the best things about tennis is its ability to take you out of yourself for a while. We all know the feeling: once you’re out on the courts with a racquet in your hand, you can just lose yourself in play and forget about the rest of the world.

Sadly, sometimes real life intrudes even into tennis. In fact, Boulder-area tennis has its problems – problems that will only get fixed if we emerge into the real world and do something about them.

If you’ve been playing tennis on public courts over the last few years, you’ve seen some of the issues I’m referring to. (If not, you’re lucky.) In a nutshell, it’s quantity and quality. First, there are just too many players trying to share too few courts (this includes informal tennis play, league play, pickleball play, and children and adult tennis training programs). Secondly, those courts we do have – especially some of the large venue facilities – are plagued with ongoing issues such as cracked playing surfaces (see current photo of Tom Watson courts above), absent restroom facilities, very few courts with lighting for night play, etc. The Centennial Middle School courts, which are actually managed by the City Parks and Rec Department, are an excellent example (in a bad way) of courts at the ragged end of their maintenance cycle.

How we got to this point in a sports-loving city with a deep-pocketed tax base is a story in itself. But the short version is that the City of Boulder, with all of its ongoing interests and issues, has consistently underfunded the Parks and Recreation Department, providing it with an annual budget that barely stretches to meet maintenance needs, let alone capital improvements. And in turn Parks and Rec has allotted only a small portion of this budget towards the maintenance and improvement of tennis facilities.

There aren’t any bad guys in this scenario. Everyone we’ve talked to, both at Parks and Rec and the school district, is trying to do his or her best in a less than ideal situation, and they’ve got a lot of balls in the air. So far they’ve been nothing but consistently eager for informed feedback about Boulder tennis. So that’s all good.

And to be clear, the lack of funding is not because there aren’t enough of us tennis and pickleball players out there. (In one of the latest surveys, it was reported that out of ten types of field and court facilities in the City Parks system, tennis courts were number two in usage, just below open park spaces.) No, the reason it has been years since tennis facilites were given the attention they deserve is simple, and we share part of the blame. We tennis court users (tennis and pickleball players alike) just haven’t done a very good job of making ourselves heard.

For this first communication, we’ll keep it (relatively) short and sweet. The BTA Board has been stepping up its game to advocate for more and better public courts in the Boulder area. Over the past two months we’ve been exchanging emails and holding virtual meetings with representatives from Parks and Rec and the Boulder Valley School District, the two major overseers of our public tennis courts. In addition, we’ve held meetings with Gonzo Garcia, the long-standing head of the largest tennis teaching program in Boulder and member of the board of directors of USTA Colorado. We’re also in the process of reaching out to the Boulder pickleball community. In short, we’re touching base with everyone involved in the fate and future of Boulder area tennis facilities.

The good news is, we’re starting this push at the perfect time. Boulder Parks and Rec is beginning the process of updating its Master Plan. This plan sets the marching orders – and most importantly, the funding priorities – for the department for the next five to seven years. As part of the process, Parks and Rec will go through various steps over the next several months to establish its new priorities. Included in this is a “needs assessment” review, taking place March through April, where they ask for public comment and reach out to a number of “stakeholders” that have an interest in these priorities. So this is our opportunity to educate the powers that be on the issues that face tennis going forward.

Call us cynical, but considering how many of these master plans have come and gone since we last saw any major tennis improvements, the BTA Board believes it will take a lot of “squeaky wheel” activity to move the ball forward. We’ll try to do some of the heavy lifting, but we’re definitely going to need the support of the entire public-tennis-court-using community behind us. Over the last few months we’ve seen nationally what politics can do, both good and bad. This is our opportunity to dabble in politics locally, and hopefully improve Boulder racquet sports for everyone, young and old, in the process.

In the next newsletter we’ll provide you with the first simple step toward educating the powers that be. (Hint: it involves nothing more complicated than going to a Parks and Rec webpage and sharing your opinion.)

So if you’re interested in being part of the discussion for new and better tennis courts and facilities in the Boulder area, keep you eye on your inbox for our next message.

We’ll be in touch soon!

The BTA Board