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Missouri Valley / St. Louis

Dwight Davis Tennis Center Earns Award

Jamie Hansen | October 26, 2020

St. Louis’ premier public tennis facility is more than a great place to play tennis. It’s for gathering with family and friends; it’s a place to watch some of the best wheelchair tennis on the planet; it’s a place to learn the game from top-notch pros. 


Dwight Davis Tennis Center is a jewel in the crown of Forest Park and its role in the growth of the game cannot be understated. Its contributions to tennis is why Dwight Davis Tennis Center is a recipient of the USTA Missouri Valley Gold Star Award.


The facility is not only well known in St. Louis, but also to many around the country who love the game. It was also named 2010 Public Park of the Year by Racquet Sports Industry Magazine and 2014 Outstanding Community Tennis Association (CTA) Award winner. Its programs are entirely funded by donations. Its mission is clear as it was when Dwight Davis himself worked tirelessly to make tennis more accessible in St. Louis in the early 1900s: “to foster and encourage municipal, district, state and national tennis tournaments in the City of St. Louis and to stimulate interest in the sport and to encourage and educate the youth of St. Louis in sportsmanship as exemplified in tennis.”


Jess Campbell and Dan Apted are charged with bringing that mission to fruition. Campbell joined the staff at the center in 2009 and has not looked back. Campbell is now General Manager and Director of Tennis Development. Before joining Dwight Davis, Campbell played her college tennis at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. 


Campbell said Dwight Davis’ popularity is due to more than stellar facilities. 


“It’s all about its location,” she said. “Forest Park is full of great amenities and players from all over the area - both city and county come here to play. It is also the biggest tennis center in town. We can host a ton of events. That has really been our focus over the last ten years: large tournaments.”


Dwight Davis Tennis Center has 18 lighted tennis courts and a Stadium Court that seats 1,700 spectators, which was converted in 2017 to four pickleball courts. Its namesake, Dwight Davis, dedicated his life to making tennis available for all by way of public tennis courts in St. Louis parks.  


So, too, has Apted. His family took over management of the facility in 2004. Campbell said it would not be what it is today without his efforts. Apted is a 2020 inductee into the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame and helps run Creve Coeur Racquet Club, as well. He and the rest of the Apted family are instrumental in progressing tennis in the area.


“Dan is the kind of person who doesn't want any recognition,” Campbell said. “He thought it would be better to put the whole family in the Hall of Fame. He loves Dwight Davis and you can feel how much he loves it. He is here every day, hosing off the patio early in the morning and just making sure everything looks nice. He has such a tremendous love of tennis. He just does all these little things that make it so homey.”


The courts are bustling each day. And when there aren’t leagues and lessons taking place, Dwight Davis hosts a plethora of local, regional and national tournaments.  In 2010, Dwight Davis became home to the USTA U.S. Open Wheelchair tournament.


Campbell was one of many who helped make the move to Dwight Davis for the tournament a reality. She was inspired to take part due to her relationship with former Principia College tennis coach Lyn Gerber. Gerber is the co-founder of the Gateway Confluence Wheelchair Sports Foundation and was the tournament director of the USTA National Indoor Wheelchair Tennis Championship.


Now, Campbell is a board member of the foundation. She said on any given day you could see some of the best wheelchair tennis players in the world play at Dwight Davis.


“Lyn was one of my greatest inspirations in life and in tennis,” Campbell said. “She is pretty much the reason I do what I do now. She is so wonderful. The level of tennis that comes in year after year in these tournaments is incredible. To see that level of play here is a huge way to get tennis out to the masses.”


Campbell hopes the future of Dwight Davis Tennis Center continues to be bringing tennis to more and more people. That is what makes the facility so great: it’s in a public park; the courts are accessible to all. To have quality facilities in the city of St. Louis is vital to the growth of the sport in the area.


To that end, Campbell is also a director and fundraiser of the NJTL Summer Camp outreach programs. The program runs on grants and helps low-income youth learn the game that has given Campbell and others who run Dwight Davis Tennis Center so much.


“I think its accessibility is what makes Dwight Davis so great,” she said. “You want people to come in here from all walks of life.  There are so many competing activities now, but to have accessibility to a quality facility in the city is important. To have courts available to anyone helps maintain tennis as something everyone can play.”


Campbell cannot imagine doing anything other than helping that mission come to life. The relationships she has developed and the people who too believe in that mission are what keep her coming back each April, when the flowers bloom and the weather becomes warm enough for outdoor tennis. 


“When I came here in 2010 it already felt like home to me. We have a great atmosphere, where things are so laid back. We work hard to keep it clean and updated. It is all about the people I work with. Judy Dippold (league and tournament director) is the matriarch of St. Louis tennis in so many ways and she is great to work with. Dan (Apted) loves outreach programs. Having been around the sport and from running tennis tournaments of 400 people, we have got such a good culture.”


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