The Beaufort Tennis Center in downtown Beaufort – the largest public tennis center in northern Beaufort County – reopened to much fanfare on Tuesday with a new look and a mission to promote the sport and renovated local courts.
“Just maybe,” said Beaufort County Councilor York Glover, noting that he first hit a tennis ball on the courts in the 1960s, “a tennis star will begin his journey here same.”
The center had been closed for six months for a $630,000 overhaul, forcing tennis players to find time elsewhere.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Shannon Loper, Beaufort County Parks and Recreation Director, who manages the facility.
Bordering Boundary Street and residential homes, the Tennis Center, 110 Bladen St., has seven courts, making it the largest public facility north of the Broad River.
But several years ago the center slipped off the radar due to poor conditions, Marshall Williams said.
Williams is a member of the steering committee of the Beaufort Tennis Club, a new group that has emerged due to the renovation of the tennis court. Group members, Williams said, plan to hold more tournaments, special events, leagues and social games on the new courts.
“It’s a wonderful setup,” Williams said.
A crowd turned out for the reopening.
Anita Singleton-Prather, who plays Aunt Pearlie Sue and The Gullah Kinfolk and grew up in the neighborhood, prayed for the courts to be a place of safety where children can hear positive words. Then Singleton-Prather, tapping a wooden cane on the sidewalk between the courts, sang a song with the words “Holy Spirit, Kumbaya.”
After the brief ceremony, the courts quickly filled up.
Larry Scheper, a tennis coach who runs his own tennis academy and also a coach at Beaufort Academy, hit balls with students. “We will continue to do what we have been doing,” said Scheper, who provides clinics for area children and adults.
Tennis courts, Scheper noted, offer young people a place to get involved in tennis, an individual sport, as opposed to team sports like basketball and soccer.
Scheper also expects the new courts to attract players from across the county for tournaments and practices.
Beaufort County, which operates the tennis center, hired Scheper on a part-time basis to oversee additional programs and monitor the courts, Loper said.
Tennis courts, Loper said, have been around at least since the 1960s.
The $630,800 renovation began in April with the demolition of existing courts and the installation of all-new courts, nets/equipment, fencing/gates and ADA-compliant sidewalks.
New lights will also be installed but this work has not yet taken place.
Rain gardens and runoff controls will be added to address recent stormwater issues that have plagued the courts.
The project was delayed by about a month due to weather, supply issues and the contractor having materials stolen from the site, the county said.
It may be considered a white sport, said Glover, the county councilor, but tennis has a long and storied history in the black community that includes great professionals such as Serena and Venus Williams, Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tournament. Gibson would win 11 Grand Slam singles and doubles titles in the 1950s.
“Americans, black and white, have enjoyed tennis for a long time,” Glover said.