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The Little Town That Could

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM

You’d be hard pressed to find Washburn, Wisconsin on a map. The sleepy town of just 2,200 inhabitants is nestled along the shores of Lake Superior in the extreme northern part of the state.

As with many small towns in America, Washburn struggles with a declining population. Betty Swiston, a member of the 7.0 Washburn team representing the Northern section at the 2008 USTA League presented by Chrysler National Championship – Western Mixed Doubles. “We’ve been losing folks ever since the paper mill closed down seven years ago,” explains Swiston.

Despite the loss of the factory, Swiston and team captain, Ximena Christensen, have been doing their part to manufacture tennis growth in Washburn. In 1991 the two women founded the Washburn Tennis Association. “We only have four courts in town, but we’re already up to 50 members in our community tennis association,” states Swiston. “I’m a principal at the local elementary school. We’ve set up a great afterschool Quickstart tennis program going for the kids in the gym, and in the summer, we offer a full-blown youth tennis program on our public courts.”

As the president of the Washburn Tennis Association, Christensen was also key player in obtaining a USTA Public Facility Funding grant and other funding to help the town resurface two of their four public courts last year. Swinston explains, “Ximena’s an architect, so once we got the funding, it only made sense that she’d manage the resurfacing project.”

Christensen has also focused on growing USTA League tennis in Washburn with great success. “We’ve sent teams to the USTA Northern Section Championship for eight years running now,” states the 50-year-old team captain. “It was so great that we captured the section championship earlier this year and advanced to nationals.”

And Christensen’s got a surefire way to ensure the continued success of league tennis with the future generations of Washburn residents: enlist her two sons. Both Alex, 22, and Steven, 20, play on the Washburn team competing at the National Championships this weekend in Gold River. In fact, exactly half of the six-member team hails from the Christensen family. “I play doubles with my younger son, Steven,” states Christenson.

The 20-year-old adds, “You know, it can be complicated to play mixed doubles with your mom. But in the end, it’s more genuine when you share a great moment on the court.”

And it was a great moment indeed for the mother-son team on Saturday afternoon, as they won the deciding match in a dogged battle with the Northern Californian team.



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