Webster Groves Parks Program Serving Up Tennis
Miki McKee-Koelsch has spent 36 years working in the parks and recreation industry, with the last 31 years coming at the City of Webster Groves and the most recent 21 of those in the position of recreation superintendent. With impressive consistency and longevity like that, it’s no surprise to hear McKee-Koelsch beam with pride when discussing the merits of her work.
“I could absolutely say I have the absolute best job in the whole wide world,” McKee-Koelsch said. “With extremely rare exception, I have enjoyed coming to work every single day of my long career. Beyond the salary, I get paid in smiles and streaks of joy. That’s a pretty good payment there. I get the comfort of knowing I can help provide programming that enhances people’s quality of life.”
McKee-Koelsch spent the first five years of her parks-dominated career at the City of Ellisville before finding a long-term landing spot in Webster Groves. With July being National Park and Recreation Month, McKee-Koelsch articulated the benefit of local park departments to their respective neighborhoods. In Webster Groves, that benefit includes some standout tennis programming.
“Parks and Rec provides a community with like interests, or it provides a feeder system for programs like USTA,” McKee-Koelsch said. “We’re offering lessons and grassroots programs to get people involved in tennis. It’s big for stress release. It’s a positive energy release. It keeps kids off the streets. I’m a firm believer that if kids are involved in other activities, they are less likely to get involved in negative activities like drugs or alcohol. Exercise can kind of create that outlet for them.”
McKee-Koelsch said a department like hers at Webster Groves can lay the groundwork and whet the appetite for players to then advance their game and further their pursuit of tennis in an organization like USTA. That quest can be a never-ending one in the lifetime sport of tennis, McKee-Koelsch noted, with players of almost any age or ability able to latch onto the game.
She’s seen that happen at a record pace of late, with 134 people enrolling in the most recent session of lessons at the Webster Groves Tennis Center (WGTC). Those sign-ups occurred through a partnership with Vetta Racquet Sports. Vetta also facilitates pickleball programs at the WGTC, as does Callahan Pickleball Academy. McKee-Koelsch said she doesn’t recall having a higher number of registrants in all her years at Webster Groves.
“It’s been phenomenal,” McKee-Koelsch said. “Whether it’s the pandemic causing an increase in the number of people going back to individual sports, which is probably part of it. But we have got such great demand on the courts now, we totally have to balance between our season pass holders and residents. Along with all the programs looking for a quality facility in which to run their programs, like USTA.”
The uptick stems in part from a massive $1.1 million renovation the Webster Groves Tennis Center underwent last summer. The facility — which is comprised of eight lit tennis courts — received an all-inclusive facelift headlined by post-tension concrete courts that are crack-free for 25 years.
Other updates included all-new lighting — which McKee-Koelsch said players have raved about — new fencing and new nets. Four courts are lined for junior tennis while four courts are lined for pickleball, too. The project took the entire summer of 2020 to complete.
In addition to a $435,000 municipal park grant and $212,500 kick-in from the City of Webster Groves, the neighboring schools of Webster Groves High School, Nerinx Hall High School and Webster University — which train and play home matches at the WGTC — contributed a combined $412,500 to cover the bill.
The Webster Groves Tennis Center has hosted USTA junior and adult events and leagues throughout the years. This year, the WGTC will serve as a USTA Missouri Valley Section Championships venue and will host some playoff matches as well. As she has been the last three-plus decades, McKee-Koelsch will be there to facilitate whatever organizations like USTA and the tennis community need.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” McKee-Koelsch said. “I was going to dual major in journalism and business administration at Mizzou. I switched to parks and recreation like my first semester. I get to do journalism, business administration, management and social work. Every day is different. Every day is rewarding in its own right.”
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