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CHTC raises level of game
Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill, NC
By Randy B. Young , ChapelHillNews.com
CHAPEL HILL -- "Platform tennis makes its public debut in Chapel Hill. At the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, there are platforms aplenty sure to please all voters, particularly the fit-minded and physical. The venerable club officially introduced members and non-members alike to the sport of platform tennis, a.k.a. "paddle tennis," at an open house last Saturday.." full story from chapelhillnews.com

Encouraged by the Chapel Hill Tennis Club's desire to promote the game among juniors, Vincent XIA shows why it's also called "paddle tennis" by players.
Photo by Todd Melet

CHAPEL HILL -- Platform tennis makes its public debut in Chapel Hill

Platform tennis makes its public debut in Chapel Hill

The economy, global warming, stem-cell research ... across America, politicians of all shapes and sizes are scrambling for positions to make a run at the White House in 2008. Each hopes to strike a chord with the local voter through a solid platform.

On civil liberties, health care, the war on terrorism.

Anything and everything.

At the Chapel Hill Tennis Club, there are platforms aplenty sure to please all voters, particularly the fit-minded and physical. The venerable club officially introduced members and non-members alike to the sport of platform tennis, a.k.a. "paddle tennis," at an open house last Saturday.

"I was on the court for 10 minutes, and I came off the court excited like a kid," CHTC board vice president Akasha Ames said. "I'm bugging the tennis director, telling him that the board's going to fire him if he doesn't get me (ahead) of the line. I've played three rotations now, and I just love it."

"It's fantastic," said Rich Green, a member of the CHTC's platform tennis board. He promoted installation of the new outdoor facilities at the club, the first such courts in the Triangle. "I love seeing people using these courts. Hundreds of people who know the sport and live in the area have contacted us."

Saturday's festivities offered open clinics and exhibitions by national tournament-level players. Professional Platform Tennis Association (PPTA) president Mike Rahaley, who currently lives in Chicago, said he's seen significant growth in the traditionally northern sport over the past decade, particularly in the South.

"We have over 3,000 participants in leagues in Chicago," Rahaley said, "but I think the potential for growth is not in the Northeast or Midwest: it's in the south, where you get temperate weather, but it does get cold."

Much of the buzz attributed to the sport comes from players and enthusiasts who have moved to the South.

"My parents played paddle tennis their whole lives in Connecticut, and they still play," said Meredith Bolon, who serves on the CHTC paddle tennis committee. "I've always known about it, but I've not lived in a place where they've had it now for 20 years."

The sport itself originated in 1928 when two gentlemen from Scarsdale, N.Y., pondered ideas for winter recreation. Played on a wooden platform surrounded by wire-mesh fencing, the game is easier to play in poor weather than lawn tennis on grass, clay or hard surfaces.

"Up north, the courts are closed in and heated," said Bolon's father, Ray Moskow. "If it snows or sleets, the boards are designed so that you can shovel the snow and sleet off. The racquets have changed and the balls have changed, but the rules have stayed the same."

Its popularity grew and, by 1940, platform tennis was featured in Life Magazine. By 1978, there were an estimated 400,000 players, and there are currently an estimated 4,000 courts in the U.S.

The history of platform tennis at CHTC runs back about a year, helped by a 2006 grant from the APTA, plus a good deal of local support for introducing the sport in the South.

"We've been working on this project for a good while, and we've had a lot of help in bringing platform tennis to the Triangle area," CHTC manager Alan Rader said. "The (APTA) was a great help, the Reilly Green Mountain Platform Tennis construction company was a great help."

Late in 2006, the building blocks of a platform tennis program arrived.

"These courts are actually used and refurbished," APTA board member and southern region president Taylor Bowen noted. "They came in on a couple trucks, and then the guys put them together.

Bowen said heaters aren't usually necessary in southern climes, and Chapel Hill's courts could thus be lowered. "There are lower profile courts, but they decided on this level here, which is fine."

With the courts installed, enthusiasts are hoping to fuel more local interest.

"The hope is to get some dedicated, passionate people, and they spread the gospel," Rahaley said. "The way I look at it is to look at the number of people smiling. The appeal that this has that tennis doesn't is that you can walk out onto the paddle court with little or no formal skill or training and begin playing. The sport's a lot more forgiving, and the learning curve is a lot quicker. It's also much more of a social sport -- the confines of the court force you into that social setting. "

The platform courts represent the latest item on CHTC's diverse menu. The 40-year-old, non-profit institution located off Highway 54 Bypass between Smith Level and Jones Ferry roads, comprises some of North Carolina's top tennis, swim, fitness and recreational facilities.

It includes a clubhouse, expansive grounds, 28 outdoor tennis courts and four indoor courts. It also offers a fitness center, an Olympic-sized pool and year-round calendar of events.

The platform courts will be at the CHTC for the duration of a two-year lease, with the possibility of purchasing the courts if enough interest is generated.

"We're hoping that in two years we can build enough interest in this area to build a strong program," Rader explained. "We actually hope to build a third court."

Court time on the platforms is free for members, and winter access passes to the courts and programs are available for non-members.

Winter access memberships for non-members include platform tennis from October through March and outdoor tennis December through March. Full details are available at the CHTC website: www.chapelhilltennisclub.com.

Green said the addition of platform tennis to that mix offers a more social alternative for racquet sport enthusiasts.

"It's social. It's doubles, so you have four people out," Green said. "People will come out and play singles, but the truer competition for all leagues and tournaments is doubles. You play during the winter, so you can enjoy the fresh air."

Green added that the most valuable asset in the game is neither mobility nor racquet skill, but patience.

"If you have good tennis skills, you'll be better at this faster," Green explained, "but it's more a case of who loses the point than who wins the point. You'll see some flashy people hitting amazing shots, but I played a team in a tournament last week that did nothing spectacular, and they did great in the tournament."

The game is played and scored like tennis, but limited to one serve. The court is on a raised platform, with a playing court that is 44 feet by 20 feet, and enclosed in wire screens that are "in-play," making the game a combination of tennis (net and lines) and racquetball/squash (off the wall).

"It's easier to learn than tennis," Bolon said, "but it's harder to be good at it."

Because of the smaller court, the sport places slightly lesser demands on mobility.

"I've known people who play wearing (knee) braces," Green said. "They can't move sideways, but I've seen them play at a high level just moving up and back (from the net)."

"Not only that, but with the screens, the ball's going to stay in play," Moskow said. "Mobility and straight speed are not as important as in tennis."

"Up north where you really get a winter, it enables racquet (sports) players to continue to play with racquets," said Moskow, who has been playing and teaching platform tennis for 35 years. "Plus, this contributes to racquet skills because of the proximity of the net play: it helps tennis players."

Green predicted continued growth across the south.

"I see this growing over the next year or two -- not like tennis, but I can see three to five more clubs offering this over the next five years in the Triangle," he said. "Just due to today's event, there's an effort at the Prestonwood Country Club (in Cary)."

"We're seeing growth here, in Virginia and in Winston-Salem it's still hot," Bowen said, "and in Atlanta it's exploding."

As for platform tennis at the CHTC, the winter of 2007-2008 will be the first full season, with plans to offer an intra-club league for all levels, more drop-in play, clinics, social events and tournaments, including a possible APTA mixed doubles event.

That tournament may help to ensure the inhospitable weather usually associated with paddle play.

"It is fun: you can play in the rain and the mist and the snow," Bowen said. "If we just schedule a tournament, then that'll (guarantee) wind and rain."



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