Tennis center closing sign

Contaminated buildings and courts have caused Conway’s Riverfront Tennis Center to be closed since Hurricane Florence’s floodwaters washed over the facility, but the future is looking brighter.

Conwayite Delan Stevens remembers when Conway High School had girls and boys’ state champion tennis teams, and he hopes the rebuilding of the Riverfront Tennis Center will bring back those glory days.

Conway High School can’t even field a boys’ tennis team now, he lamented.

When he was young, he said, “We played all the time. We had a big city tournament. I remember when we used to have a city champion. I’m not talking about four or five people playing; we had 50 people playing in a city tournament. Tennis was big,” he said.

Now that the U.S. Tennis Association has become involved in restoring Conway’s tennis center, he thinks it’s possible to see tennis soaring in Conway again.

With up to $100,000 of design help from the USTA, the riverfront tennis center can come back stronger and more able to withstand future flooding, according to City Administrator Adam Emrick.

The tennis building will go up on piers about six feet, with the clay courts about three to four feet higher than they were before.

The USTA wants to increase the number of courts from seven to eight to make the center more suitable for tournaments. The group also wants to make the center ADA compliant because, Emrick says, USTA officials tell him, there are many disabled people playing tennis these day.

“It will be a new facility, and it will be awesome,” he said.

Conway’s grants administrator John Rogers said officials from the USTA will attend Monday’s city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers upstairs at City Hall to advise them on how to best use the tennis center when it’s ready for play.

They are hoping Conway will expand its tennis program with the goal of getting more children starting to play at earlier ages.

After hearing a briefing on the USTA’s involvement, Councilman Tom Anderson expressed his excitement, saying tennis is a lifetime sport, unless some sports like football, and he wants to see more Conwayites able to take advantage of the center’s programs.

Councilman Larry White was concerned about the center being a “membership” club, with people having to pay to be members. However, he was assured that the goal here is to get a variety of people involved.

Stevens says the tennis center was never an exclusive club. It was built with the help of a Parks, Recreation and Tourism matching grant that required public participation. People could estimate how much they might play and pay their fees in advance. Some people got the perception that the advanced payment was a membership fee and the membership was some kind of closed group.

He says he actually sees tennis beginning to make a comeback. Before the flood, the tennis center had about ten boys, between the ages of 10 and 12, who were traveling to play in tournaments.

“When they get to high school, they’ll have a tennis team,” he said.

Stevens likes the idea of Conway holding tennis tournaments and believes they can be really good for the city.

While adult tournaments are good, he said, it’s the children’s tournaments that can boost the city. He’d like to see two or three junior tournaments each year.

“They bring in the parents and everybody else. I’m all for it and I hope it works out,” he said.

Stevens expects to see a big turnout from the tennis community Monday night.

“I’d like to see it come back, I really would and I think this is a step in the right direction, that’s for sure,” he said.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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