Paddle tennis supporters making push for Manchester courts

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A group of local enthusiasts that comprise Manchester's Platform Tennis Committee held a fundraising event last month to promote the construction of two new platform tennis courts at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park. Though there are multiple courts in the Manchester area (three at the Dorset Field Club and one at Equinox on the Battenkill), these will be the first courts open for public use not only in Manchester, but in the entire state, according to committee member Christopher Ams.

The first platform tennis court was built in 1928 in Scarsdale, New York, and today the sport is heavily associated with New England. Often called "paddle," the game is played during the winter on an elevated court roughly a third the size of a tennis court surrounded by a twelve-foot wire fence.

Though today the platform comes in handy for containing a heating system beneath the court, the sport's inventors weren't thinking in terms of 21st-century technological advances. Historically, the first platform was constructed as a means of keeping the court level, as it was built into the side of a hill.

Platform tennis has strong roots in Southern Vermont, as told in the recent documentary "The Longest Game." The film details the lives of a group of octogenarians who meet several times a week to play paddle at the Dorset Field Club.

Even though the sport is historically important to this region, there is nowhere nearby for most area residents to play. So a group of local paddle enthusiasts decided to take matters into their own hands, putting together a proposal to bring platform tennis to the public.

Town Manager John O'Keefe said that lack of public access was one of the main ideas leading to the project, saying "there is paddle tennis in the area, but it's privately owned ... the biggest push is opening the sport to new people," including younger players. Committee member Nancy Lewis agreed, citing her own experience playing with her daughter.

The courts could also double as courts for pickleball, another racquet sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Since pickleball is only played outdoors during the summer, leagues in Manchester could use the courts and generate revenues in platform tennis' off season.

In a presentation given at the event, Ams said that constructing and equipping the courts would cost $242,770 of privately raised funds, and they also hope to raise maintenance fees to cover the first years' worth of service costs. Annual maintenance might cost as much as $22,500, but committee member Bill Drunsic said that these costs would be completely covered by usage fees.

However, despite the costs, O'Keefe and the committee fully believe that the project will benefit the area in the long run, both in terms of providing a new activity and in attracting visitors or professionals, possibly for weekend tournaments. As Drunsic put it, "it's another arrow in our quiver" that will stimulate economic development.

During the presentation, Ams said that several hotels in Manchester — the Equinox Resort, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel, and the new Hampton Inn and Suites — were enthusiastic about the project, as it will attract more customers and allow them to recommend additional activities to their clients. Ams also said that several area schools have shown an interest in public courts and in developing extracurricular paddle programs to provide another winter activity for students.

O'Keefe believes that the paddle project "definitely fills a void around here for outdoor winter activity," and the whole group is enthusiastic about getting Vermonters outdoors and active during the colder months. Local residents would enjoy an additional outdoor sport during the winter, so "I think it's a great project," O'Keefe said.

"I have created so many memories with my family, my high school buddies, and my friends around town playing paddle tennis," said Lewis. "It's a great group of people, and we look forward to bringing more people into the community of paddle enthusiasts."

Lauren Adler is a summer resident of Manchester.

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