South Mississippi tennis clubs took a licking from Katrina. Outdoor lights, in particular, were damaged at about every tennis court from the Coast to Hattiesburg and beyond. But there is a still a strong demand for tennis, and much progress has been made getting facilities back up and running.
“A lot of people are playing again,” said Bo Bowman, assistant pro and tennis director at Treasure Oak County Club in Ocean Springs. “We held a tournament the first weekend in December, and had a large turnout. There were 150 people in the tournament. It looks like the leagues will be much smaller than they used to be, but there are still a lot of people playing.”
The Treasure Oak Country Club has all 10 courts playable now, and five have night lighting. It took the club located on Old Fort Bayou about three weeks to get the courts cleaned off to be playable again, and power wasn’t restored until December 20.
Bowman said their older clubhouse had seven feet of water, and isn’t usable right now. But the new clubhouse got only a few inches of water and is now functional. The five Ocean Springs city courts are playable now, but the Gulf Hills Tennis Club is currently not open because of hurricane damages.
The Singing River Yacht Club in Pascagoula had six courts, which were destroyed. Plans are being made to rebuild there.
Leagues hitting the courts
“They are supposed to be rebuilding, and will start at the end of February,” said Bowman, who is also vice president of the Jackson County Tennis Association. “In the meantime, leagues are going to be playing at the IG Levy Tennis Center in Pascagoula. IG was hit hard, but there are two playable courts. Two more with fences down are to be fixed by the end of the month.”
Bowman said tennis is one of the few adult organized sports. There isn’t a lot of adult football, softball or basketball, for example.
“Tennis is a good social and competitive sport for all ages,” he said. “It is a way to get exercise that is not a grind.”
Coast tennis players have done well with state winning teams. Bowman’s wife, Suzy, was just named Female Player of the Year for the Mississippi Tennis Association, Ron Herrin was named Volunteer of the Year and Kathy Gendron was named Coach of the Year.
Another major tennis club on the Coast, Bayou Bluff Tennis Club, suffered little damage to the courts. But every light was misaligned.
“It took us a long time to get the lights back up,” said Margaret McCrary, pro shop manager at Bayou Bluff. “We have 10 hard courts, and we have three soft courts. We are now about to use 11 of our 13 courts. The reason we can’t use the other two is the light posts are down and the vendor hasn’t had time to make repairs.”
Bayou Bluff lost very few members. About 15 members left, mostly military who were transferred out of the area. But they gained about as many members back. They added some members who were members of the Gulfport Yacht Club, which was destroyed in Katrina.
Slowly, but surely, people are coming back to play tennis.
“Tuesday night is a good gauge on tennis activity,” McCrary said. “That is usually our biggest night. We probably had all our courts full the last three Tuesday nights. We are not back to where we were, but there is certainly renewed interest in tennis. The first time coming back to play after a lapse is very difficult.”
“But once you do it, you feel so good mentally and physically that you want to come and work it back into your regular schedule.”
The U.S. Tennis Association season begins February 6, and January is the month that teams form up.
“At this point only six or eight teams have registered,” McCrary said. “Last year we had 18 teams. I guessed the numbers of teams would be down, but each team has up to 14 players.”
Tennis courts in Hattiesburg were also damaged by the storm.
“We had a lot of facility damage,” said Sandy Lukowski, assistant pro at the Racquet Club in Hattiesburg on Darby Road. “All of the lights on the posts got turned from the winds. Some of our fences had trees on them. Two of our clay courts are still not playable since the storm. A lot of the clay got lifted off. We have to re-lay the clay courts. Trees were down everywhere in the parking lot. The whole clubhouse is still intact, but we had some roof leaks.”
Currently, the Racquet Club has eight playable courts in addition to its swimming pool, playground and clubhouse. The club has 230 members, up from a year ago when Lukowski and her fiancé, head pro Roger Browne, arrived to work at the facility.
“I think for Hattiesburg the tennis community is very large here,” Lukowski said. “With more people moving here, it will get better and better. There is a lot of league play, and that is starting in February. We have four tournaments here throughout the year.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.