Rockford Tennis Center loses five courts.
Yet it becomes even more accessible to the public.
But maybe only for a short while.
Nothing is set yet, but after 48 years of public use, the Guilford Tennis Center could end up being reserved for school use only in 2021.
The ongoing saga of the 14-court center, which opened in 1973, takes on a few more twists. Rockford Public Schools is paying $40,000 to demolish five “dilapidated” courts at Guilford High School this month and replace them with green space.
It’s not really a loss. These five courts have not had nets for over a year. And the other nine courts, which were redone at a cost of $300,000 three years ago, will no longer be busy for much of the summer with youth classes.
Daniel Beeman used to run the Rockford Park district lessons through the Forest City Tennis Centre. But when the FCTC closed in December, the Park District pulled out of class operations in favor of introducing tennis for children as part of their community sports programs in neighborhood parks.
“If people are looking to play, they should be happy with Guilford’s availability,” said Beeman, now the Boylan Indoor Tennis Center’s head pro.
That could change. In early March, RPS announced it would restrict Guilford’s nine courts to school use only and for 45 minutes on four designated Tennis Tuesdays for free Park District adult and youth lessons. In a last-minute deal, the Park District agreed to cover summer maintenance costs to keep the courts open.
On Friday, the Park District announced it was handing over the courts to the RPS. The two organizations had shared the courts since 1973. The Park District built them, but RPS, after three years of wrangling, paid most of the resurfacing costs in 2017. Since then, the Park District had priority over the courts and covered operations and maintenance costs during the summer, while the same was true for RPS during the school year.
“The transition of this facility to the school district really won’t change much for the community,” Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine said in a news release.
Or maybe not.
Cathy Bayer, communications coordinator for RPS, said nothing had been decided beyond this year. Park District and RPS officials declined to be interviewed, but the RPS’s email response to the Rockford Register Star was not encouraging to the public.
“Moving forward, Rockford Public Schools is not responsible for operating a public tennis facility,” the statement read. “We are a public educational institution and we must put taxpayers’ money first and do what is best for our students, as well as for teaching and learning. The Park District, fortunately, has several other options for community members to play tennis.
No options as good as Guilford. The Park District has more than 70 courts, but most of them are as dilapidated as the five courts that RPS is paying $40,000 to get rid of.
“Guilford has the only good courts,” said Belen Nevenhoven, who finished second in the state as a junior at Auburn last fall. “All the other outdoor courts have cracks everywhere or kids disturb them because they are near the parks.
“You’re not going to play basketball on a messy court. Or any other sport. Guilford gives you a good experience of what tennis should be, rather than playing on a dirt court with grass growing in between. the cracks.
Rockford’s most dedicated doubles players also often play in groups of eight or 12. The only tennis spot in the Park District besides Guilford with more than two courts is Harlem Middle School with four. Having two pitches in half decent condition might not work if eight people only show up to see one of the pitches already in use. With nine courts, that’s rarely a problem at Guilford.
“It’s like that when my parents were playing,” Beeman said. “They were going from court to court looking for an opening. When you have four or more courts in one place, you know they will be open. It would be nice if the Park District committed to having four courts that were going to be enjoyable wherever they were.
Or RPS could keep Guilford open to the public as it has been for 48 years.
“We all pay school taxes too,” said former Rock Valley College tennis coach Steve Vee. .”
“Guilford,” said John Torrence, who finished fifth in the state for Rockford West in 1972, “is the center where people can play.”
It’s been 48 years. But maybe not for 49.
Matt Trowbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge