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Tennis club president airs concerns with Town of Richmond Hill tennis strategy

President and recreation director disagree over tennis organization
July 8, 2016
By Michael Hayakawa

Michael Bowcott proclaims that tennis is a popular recreational activity in Richmond Hill.

The Richmond Hill resident might be a little biased in his assessment, as he is president of the Richmond Hill Lawn Tennis Club.

Being in that position though, Bowcott has a pretty good handle on how the sport’s popularity has evolved through the years and what direction it is heading in Richmond Hill.

So far, it’s all good.

“Richmond Hill has a large tennis playing community,” he cited. “We have a lot of people who want to play tennis. Right now the demand for organized tennis is growing by leaps and bounds.”

While that positive trend brings a smile to Bowcott, he warned it could change if the Town of Richmond Hill does not act quickly to answer the concerns the tennis community at large has to keep up with the growing demand.

Noting the Richmond Hill Lawn Tennis Club has been operating at capacity for the last five years, Bowcott said its membership, along with other concerned residents who enjoy the sport, have pursued town officials to address the needs of tennis players over the last six years.

Among those issues include the upgrading of existing multi-court facilities and construction of quality multi-court tennis facilities in areas where none currently exist.

“Tennis players tend to gravitate towards nicer courts and the problem right now is that there’s not enough nice courts. And for the ones that are currently there, the residents cannot get on the courts,” cited Bowcott.

The concerns are not just focused on the outdoor season.

During the winter months, there’s a need to address the increasing need for affordable and accessible indoor tennis.

Especially since at the present time, the town has just one indoor facility in the Blackmore Tennis Club located at David Hamilton Park. It is privately operated and has capped its membership for the last three years.

In an effort to inform the tennis community of what steps are being planned to improve access to the sport, the Town presented its draft version of a Tennis Strategy at a public meeting last month.

With a large gathering in attendance, the tennis community praised officials for their efforts to devise a Tennis Strategy, that was conceived through the Town’s 2013 Recreation Master Plan.

However, players aired some concerns.

Most noteably, an absence of specific conclusions for the creation for additional indoor public facilities, quality of courts, and a strategy or plan to accommodate the existing demand and grow the game with an emphasis at the grassroots level to encourage more youngsters, especially those with parents who might be financially challenged, to gain access into the sport of tennis.

Another issue raised from the Tennis Strategy was the proposed introduction of a Community Tennis Club Policy and establishment of a Tennis Advisory Committee.

“The Community Tennis Club Policy and Tennis Advisory Committee represent a new level of municipal involvement in sports which is simply unprecedented in our community,” Bowcott said. “The question needs to be asked, why is tennis being targeted and singled out from all other sports clubs or associations in Richmond Hill?

“Is the Town going to apply these new policies to all sports organizations/associations at the same time?”

Bowcott feels a more viable route to take is the creation of a local tennis association that could be operated similar to other proven minor sports association models such as hockey, baseball or soccer.

“Hockey provides a perfect example as to why an association is necessary,” he said. “If we taught our kids to skate, bought them hockey equipment and then told them to go and play with their friends or parents, how successful would they have been in growing the game?”

The presence of a local tennis association could identify and address the current and future needs of all stakeholders in the sport, he said.

“The Town is trying to protect the public access to courts, which they should,” Bowcott said. “But they fail to see that they have under-invested in more quality courts and have only done so with the community clubs. This creates a natural resentment, as you would expect.

“A tennis association working with the Town could open up new community clubs in areas of Richmond Hill where there aren’t any now and free up more prime time court access for local residents.

“A successful association that runs the leagues, lessons, summer camps and an indoor facility can then financially assist the clubs and reinvest in upgrading rundown facilities with no need to use taxpayer money,” he insisted.

“It will always be a problem until municipalities understand they are the source of the problem. They have caged and controlled the community clubs into one facility and will not allow them to expand to the increasing demand for organized tennis.

“The tennis community in Richmond Hill suffers. It’s a tragedy. We need a viable tennis strategy.”

Acknowledging there was plenty of public feedback on the Tennis Strategy draft report, Darlene Joslin, Richmond Hill’s director of recreation and culture, revealed the Town’s plan will continue to be developed over the summer months and another public meeting will be scheduled within the next couple of months to inform those who attend of any resulting changes.

“Of note there were five key areas that we will be addressing,” she said. “This includes: public access to community tennis club courts; a proposed Tennis Advisory Committee; quality of existing courts/setting court service level standards; indoor facility timing and location; and new community tennis club development.”

On the suggestion of creating a tennis association, Joslin was quick to point out the associations governing other sports in Richmond Hill bear no resemblance to the model Bowcott proposes.

She added the role, authority level and degree of representation of associations in other communities is different than what he characterizes them to be.

“The Town of Richmond Hill has no intention of relinquishing its responsibility of representing the recreational interest of all residents regardless of the sport or activity in which they choose to participate,” she said. “The draft Tennis Strategy proposes that a Tennis Advisory Committee be established with representatives from Town staff, community tennis clubs, members of the general public and a designate from the Ontario Tennis Association. This committee would provide input and advice to Town staff on the effective implementation of the Tennis Strategy. This is one of the areas that staff and the consultant will review.”

As for the concern tennis participants have about a shortage of indoor facilities, Joslin said their strategy recommends a number of site locations to be considered, which staff will investigate and propose recommendations for council’s consideration.

As well, once the Blackmore Tennis Club’s licence expires in 2017, the Town said the facility will be subject to the new process and policies.

“The Tennis Strategy also speaks to a number of management approaches for the Town’s consideration,” she cited. “The Town will develop a business case and operation plan for the new indoor facility and will recommend the preferred management option that will produce the highest and best value to the residents.

“The Town’s financial pressures are always top of mind, while making future facility and program development plans, which is the case here with the Tennis Strategy,” said Joslin.