When the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department closed the Fair Oaks Tennis Center (FOTC) Jan. 1, dozens of tennis players and students of the game felt stranded. From children’s lessons to ladies’ tournaments to weekend recreation, the center and the courts kept budding tennis players active and progressing in their game.
Erin Miller says she’s scrambling now to find a place for her son to continue the sport he’s grown to love. Royal Oaks Country Club is accessible but not in her budget. Other courts around the city are inconvenient for busy moms with kids in multiple activities.
“Fair Oaks is so close, so it was very easy to get ourselves and our kids there,” says Miller. “The location was a big reason many people started taking the lessons in the first place, as most of us are working moms.”
In the fall of 2020, Miller found Curtis Reese, a tennis pro who’d created Reese Racquet Sports and begun teaching lessons at the center afternoons and evenings. Her son enjoyed it so much, she recruited 9 friends from her Forest Meadow neighborhood to enroll as a group.
“I had always wanted to try tennis,” says Miller, “and Curtis wanted to be sure that working moms and dads could take lessons. We’ve all had so much fun that we are planning on starting to play matches in the fall.”
The courts at Fair Oaks will remain open for free play, but Reese says the loss of the tennis center is sad for the neighborhood.
“There is significant community interest in having a tennis facility in the Lake Highlands area. I taught Moss Haven, Merriman Park and Forest Meadow area moms and kids without any marketing efforts to other neighborhoods in Lake Highlands. The increase in traffic to Fair Oaks was significant, so I know, with some marketing power and good programming at the facility, it would be successful.”
Robb Stewart, Lake Highlands rep on the Dallas Park Board, says flooding – not lack of interest – is to blame for the center’s closure.
“The problem with the Fair Oaks Tennis Center is all the building north of town. The flooding has become worse and worse over the last several years. [FOTC Director] Donny Rains would lose a good part of April and May, and it killed his tournament business. He just couldn’t operate profitably due to the floods. It’s too expensive to maintain a tennis facility at that location. Every time we get 3 quarters of an inch of rain, new damage is done. And every time a new house is built in Frisco, the problem is a little worse. When we were kids, that was all cotton fields up north. Now it’s all paved over, and the water travels down White Rock Creek to Lake Highlands.”
Reese and Stewart agree that one solution may be converting some Fair Oaks tennis courts to Pickleball. The popular court sport is among several Reese is qualified to teach, and the city receives regular requests for more access.
“It’s the most popular court sport in the country,” says Stewart, “and one tennis court can make 4 for Pickleball. People can play into their 80s. They can even play while seated. It’s a good sport for developing hand-eye coordination.”
Pickleball began in 1965 at the Washington State home of Joel Pritchard, who later served in Congress and as lieutenant governor. After a round of golf with friends, the legend goes, his family and his guests planned to play badminton but couldn’t find a shuttlecock. They improvised with a perforated plastic ball and plywood paddles, and the new game was born. There’s a dispute over whether they called their creation after the family dog, or whether “Pickles” was named for the game. To repurpose tennis courts into Pickleball, Dallas city crews would need to resurface and restripe courts and install different nets.
Reese, who lives in Lake Highlands and was director of Pickleball at Royal Oaks before creating his own business, says he enjoys teaching and playing the game as much as any other court sport. Above all, he wants families to get out and get moving – especially during the pandemic.
“Pickleball and tennis are great outdoor, COVID-friendly activities,” he says. “The thing that I noticed the most about Fair Oaks is that no one realized that the place was even open. It wouldn’t take much effort to get the word out, and I know the community wants to utilize Fair Oaks.”