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Memories of the Terre Haute Tennis Club

by Joe Petty

Tennis players moving to Terre Haute at the end of World War II (1945-46) soon learned that no public courts were available. A few of the long-term residents were playing at private courts at the Water Works, but newcomers hesitated to go there without an invitation.

If willing to wait until there were no students in line, they might be able to play briefly at the two courts behind Wiley High School, or the three courts which then were the total of courts on the Indiana State Teachers College campus. These were concrete courts.

There had been clay courts at Rea Park before the war, but during that time they lay idle and neglected, eventually growing over completely in weeds. Even after the war, the Park Board, basically oriented to golf, playgrounds, and picnicking, doubted that many citizens cared for tennis, and took no action to restore the courts.

Finally a small group of tennis enthusiasts banded together (see the roster of Presidents) and went to city administration officials. When this group, to become the Rea Park Tennis Club, offered in desperation to buy nets and the lime for lining, the city finally acted to restore just three courts, feeling that this would be plenty.

After use of these courts grew, the city later responded to continuing pressures and eventually all six clay courts were restored. The first care-taker was competent, but, upon his retirement, a series of political appointees, more interested in the shade trees than the sunny courts, succeeded him.

Again, the Club went to the Park Board to encourage the hiring of an interested, competent caretaker. A young coach, named Pete Chalos, was hired and, because of his interest as a tennis player, he soon had the courts in much better condition.

The Club initiated a program of giving lessons at Rea Park to beginners. At first, members volunteered. Then the Park Board agreed to pay part-time instructors.

The high schools had only minimal tennis programs, partly because of lack of facilities at most schools, and these were for the boys only. The Club urged the VCSC to expand its tennis program, and to consider including girls. Having expanded its tourney program to include tournaments for women, as well as for men, the Club was able to show that interest was growing among the girls as well as among the boys.

Because of shortage of courts elsewhere, not only did Garfield High School schedule its meets at Rea Park, but Indiana State also had its matches there through the cooperation of the city and the Rea Park Tennis Club. As other high school teams fielded teams, they, too, used Rea. Through the encouragement of the Club, a girls' city high school tourney was held at Rea in 1956.

During that era, Club members, of course, had to deprive themselves of the opportunity of playing tennis on the numerous days when Rea courts were reserved for practice and meets for the various high schools and Indiana State. However, they did so sacrifice in the interest of drawing more young people into the lifetime joy of tennis.

Finally, in April, 1956, Indiana State opened its six new Laykkold courts on Chestnut Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Coach Duane Klueh at last had a place on campus for his varsity team.

Early in the 1950's, the Club had the Industrial League in operation, generating funds to supplement those given by the members. Even in 1956, the Club was still buying nets, center straps, cable and clamps for the nets, reels, calcium chloride and lime for the courts, as well as paying for welding and other necessary emergency repairs.

The existing clay surfaces on the six courts were rapidly wearing out. So, the Club asked the Park Board to loosen the purse strings and apply a new clay surface to all courts, a new type of permanent pervious surface, or a permanent hard surface. It also recommended the erection of canvas back and side stops for these wind-swept courts.

Still, the city appropriations were extremely modest. By 1959, the Club had expended many hundreds of donated dollars (some raised by community-wide solicitations) in the additional steps of erecting a practice board, wind-breaking green canvas for some of the backstops, umbrella-awnings, sand boxes for small children of players, and a bulletin board. An energetic outreach for additional dues-paying members was conducted.

By 1963 tourney time, three of the courts had been made concrete, with the other three still clay. Some players preferred the feel of the clay, while others liked the speed and smoothness of the concrete.

Within a few years, all six courts were cement. This eliminated the expense of a full-time caretaker of the clay courts, which required daily working. It also permitted players to use the courts quickly after a rain, whereas they were not allowed on the clay courts until at least a full day after a rain.

In 1970, the Vigo County School Corporation was realizing completion of construction of its new schools. By 1971, students were using the many hard-surface courts placed at North, South, and West Vigo High Schools. Courts were now available at the junior high schools too, with the well-lighted courts at Woodrow Wilson probably the most elaborate complex.

The decade brought construction of new varsity courts at Indiana State University, as well as additional courts on the Rose Hulman campus. Yet, even with all the added facilities, the Rea Park courts became more crowded. So three more hard-surface courts were built just north of the existing six. At the end of the decade, the Rea courts were resurfaced so that they would be in better shape, as we entered 1980, than in many prior years.

Because of its interest in promoting tennis throughout the vicinity, the Rea Park Tennis Club had become the Terre Haute Tennis Club. Thankful for the extension of school facilities, it still saw other needs. Through the Club's encouragement, the City Park Board constructed and made available to the public without fee charge hard-surface courts in numerous parks, with the most elaborate set-ups at Collett, Deming, and Brittlebank. Even the Vigo County Park system shared the enthusiasm, placing courts in rural park areas.

An interesting swing of the pendulum had occurred. The Terre Haute Tennis Club was sponsoring a growing number of tourneys for players of all ages, both sexes and of varying degrees of ability. Some tourneys were drawing so many entries that Rea's nine courts were inundated. So the Club turned to the county school system and the university, which made extra courts available to accommodate the fields. This seemed to be poetic justice, since the Club had furnished courts to the schools and university when they lacked facilities.

The Terre Haute Tennis Club has become well-known statewide and in numerous other states. This is because it not only has drawn many good players from other areas to its tourneys, but also has sent numerous outstanding members to play and win trophies in tourneys held in those areas.

From the beginning, the success of the Club has stemmed from a happy combination in its membership of long-time local citizenship and new-comers to the community who shared their special knowledge and abilities and cooperated in the common goal of giving everyone a chance to play tennis.

Tennis instruction is now available through the Vigo County School Corporation, the City of Terre Haute, Indiana State University and both amateurs and pros in the community. Interest in the sport continues to grow, and the Terre Haute Tennis Club is ready to grow with the times.


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Terre Haute Tennis Club, PO Box 6031, Terre Haute, Indiana  47802