Garber Tennis Courts Celebrate Grand Re-Opening
Saginaw Mayor, state officials, and Malivai "Mal" Washington among list of speakers.
“This has been the culmination of our dreams!” says Ken LeCureux of Urban Racquet Sports Foundation. He's talking about the grand re-opening of Garber Tennis Courts in Saginaw, Michigan. Both LeCureux and Pharrington Douglass, the President of Urban Racquet Sports Foundation, have been waiting for this moment for more than a decade. The dream goes back 15 years to when LeCureux and Douglass started their foundation to help young people in Northeastern Michigan. “There were street gangs throughout the south side, and we wanted to make a difference,” recalls Douglass.
The two men decided to start offering after-school tennis programs, but when they applied for a grant to purchase equipment, they didn’t receive the funds. Instead, the local grant went to a senior living facility that needed the money for kitchen appliances. So LeCureux and Douglass looked for other opportunities, searching for grant writers and different foundations to partner with, including the city of Saginaw.
Without a recreation department of its own, the city chose LeCureux and Douglass for a partnership. When the weather was nice, the foundation could use Garber Tennis Courts for outdoor lessons. At the time, Pharrington says the courts’ conditions weren’t great. Six of twelve were playable… The back six were rough.
Over the next couple of years, LeCureux and Douglass began to beautify the courts. They formed several more partnerships, and received the funds to tear down and replace six of them and patch up the others.
During the process, Douglass began seeing a bigger picture.
“We had a dream: We’re going to build the place, and we’re going to build a facility for our program.”
The dream got underway with a $2.2M budget estimation, meant to pay for championship-style pickleball and tennis courts, brand new lighting, and the construction of a whole new building complete with bathrooms, a classroom, and pro shop.
In 2019, the Urban Racquet Sports Foundation began fundraising. Ken LeCureux says it was a Common Grant Application and some good old-fashioned arm twisting that raised the $2M for Garber Courts. An anonymous donor also contributed, matching some of the original dollars donated.
When the project took off, it was met with a global pandemic. “Covid-19 caused starts and stops along the way,” says LeCureux.
Last April, demolition began. By October, the build was finished. “The end result will help grow our mission: Mentoring kids and using racquet sports as our tool,” says LeCureux.
“We want to thank all of our donors, families, and friends who helped us officially open," says Douglass. "Let’s continue to positively impact these children we’re coaching, through encouragement and character development.”
The official grand re-opening celebration took place on Friday, June 10, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. There were exhibition matches with USTA Northeastern Michigan officials present and a celebrity appearance by MaliVai “Mal” Washington.
“This celebration showcased that tennis is very much alive in Saginaw. Hopefully it sparked interest in those who attended,” states Connor Nowosatka, the District Chair of Officials for USTA Northeastern Michigan. "After this event, I hope people will go, ‘I want to be a part of that.' Whether they're a player, a parent or possibly an official. Any way helps tennis grow.”
Susan Courtright, the District’s Tennis Service Representative, noted several key speakers at the ceremony, including Saginaw’s Mayor, Brenda Moore, and representatives from Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office.
Looking back, Pharrington Douglass feels extremely blessed by the community's support with the project. “I started out as a beginner playing tennis here, taking lessons at my city’s park—Garber Tennis Courts! Who would have thought it would all happen this way?” says Douglass.
When Douglass was in grade school, he’d go to Garber Courts with his best friend and play with socks on their hands as gloves, Kmart special tennis racquets, and a broom to sweep the courts.
Now, it’s a facility with 16 tennis and pickleball courts.
“With Saginaw, we’ve had a great nonprofit/public relationship,” says Ken LeCureux. “The biggest challenge now? It seems it was easier to build it, than to run it.” LeCureux smiles. “We’re still currently raising funds for operating equipment and in-kind donations of clubhouse furniture, and feverishly getting our club management system up and running. I’ve been opening at 7:30 a.m. every day and Pharrington closes at 8:00 p.m. until we can get some people to man the Pro Shop.”
With kids and families in mind, LeCureux and Douglass are most concerned about Garber Courts’ impact.
“We’re taking our programming to another level,” says LeCureux.
Douglass imagines pickleball programming, hosting high school tennis matches, curating scholarships and introducing more adult competitions.
“Our goal is to really make a difference in the lives of the people we work with,” Douglass says. “Our building is open. Clinics have begun. Let’s do this!”
The Garber Tennis Courts website is now up and running! To learn more visit www.garbercourts.org.
- Former professional tennis player, MaliVai “Mal” Washington speaks at the ceremony.
- More than 50 volunteers attended the celebration, including USTA Northeastern Michigan officials.
- The Garber Courts facility has 16 tennis and pickleball courts, new lighting, a classroom, and pro shop.
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