Nestled in the upper half of the state of Michigan, you will find the small city of Gaylord. The population wavers between 3,600 and 4,000 people, making it a close-knit community and one that values outdoor recreation. But one thing was missing from the active lifestyle of Gaylord residents: tennis.
Tennis, for most citizens, was a distant memory. Though there were courts sprinkled around the city here and there, Gaylord had not seen organized tennis in quite some time. In fact, the late 80’s was the last time the local high school had a team and the city had anything resembling serious tennis.
For years, citizens focused on other recreational activities and informal leagues ruled the courts. That is, until the Alpine Regional Tennis Association (ARTA) was founded.
After years without organized tennis, a small group of dedicated individuals came together in 2012 to introduce the city to what tennis could look like. Since its founding, ARTA has been working diligently with the city of Gaylord to create an excitement around the sport of tennis. The association has been working tirelessly since to integrate tennis instruction into the lives of Gaylord’s youth and adults alike, demonstrating that the sport is for life.
At the helm of the growing programs is Dave Johnson. A USPTR – certified instructor, Johnson became part of the ARTA board when he and his wife moved to Gaylord. Johnson was eager to make a difference in the community through tennis and wanted to support the association’s mission to grow tennis. From the time he started, Johnson has introduced countless tennis programs into the Gaylord community, including cardio tennis, Start/Restart, group and individual lessons for youth and adults, Sets in the City events, and tournaments.
The road to completing these courts would not be easy, but the members of ARTA knew that to continue the wonderful growth of tennis they had already seen throughout the city, it was a necessary step. To begin the process, ARTA partnered with key city and county leaders, as well as the Otsego County Sportsplex, a large, multi-purpose community recreational center.
Bill Michaels, Executive Director of the Sportsplex, knew immediately that assisting with the funding and creation of these courts would result in a boom in tennis awareness across Gaylord. So, as the conversations started about developing land for the courts, it only made sense to connect them with Sportsplex. Tennis would have a new home on the county-owned property next to Sportsplex.
Now, came the hard work associated with raising the money for the courts. Because ARTA is a 501c3 non-profit organization, most of the funds used to build the courts came in the form of donations, fundraising efforts, and grants. The board spent countless hours in the community championing the benefits of the courts and writing grants. Through the collaborative work between the county, city, and ARTA, the association raised over $300,000, including a $175,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
And so, in May of 2018, the ribbon was cut on four USTA-standard courts at the Otsego County Sportsplex Tennis Center, and the excitement continues to grow around the sport.
Not only has adult participation skyrocketed in the year since the courts were opened, but junior tennis is at an all-time high as well. ARTA has partnered with the Gaylord Community Schools to collaborate on efforts to offer tennis instruction to junior players, including offering scholarships to students attending the Midwest Youth Team Tennis and Sportsplex summer camp. ARTA has also championed after-school tennis programs for children, allowing them to learn so much more than on-court skills.
Pearson believes, like so many others in the community, that tennis has filled a void and allows juniors more choice in how they are spending their free time.
“I think this is what is very special about Gaylord; if you present a need for a program, the organizations will step up,” said Pearson. “This is a great example of the community wrapping their hands around the youth and saying that they are all of our children, whether you have kids in school, and no matter what school they go to."
“Youth is an important part of Gaylord and for this community to come forth and put the resources together for the youth, I think it speaks volumes.”
Not only are the courts helping juniors find a new passion, but they also serve as a bridge between the east and west side of the northern half of the state. Now, with a central meeting spot, members of ARTA are confident that the courts will become a hub of activity in Northern Michigan.
Though the courts are only a year old, the amount of good that has come from the hard work of ARTA is already apparent. Ask anyone in the community, and they will tell you that the unwavering dedication has not gone unnoticed.
The members of ARTA, now led by Sheila Simpson, will look to continue fostering a love and appreciation of the sport. Most recently, through a generous donation, the association now has a re-stringing machine so area players can have their racquets restrung locally.
Eventually, members of ARTA hope to create an indoor facility. Until the next big project, though, they will celebrate with the community on the growth of tennis and the bright future of the sport in Gaylord.