The six tennis courts bisected by a long blue, canopy tent that cover two small sets of bleachers doesn’t look like much in the 98-acre, North Mecklenburg Park nestled in a wooded-area just off Old Statesville Road in Huntersville.
But for hundreds of tennis players each week, and thousands of tennis players each year, the North Mecklenburg Park tennis facility is home to a camaraderie and competition that is about much more than getting in a couple hours of exercise.
Steve Baughan, who has lived in Huntersville for 20 years, is one of those players. He plays tennis four times a week in multiple, United States’ Tennis Association (USTA) leagues with at least two of his matches coming at North Meck Park, less than 2 miles from his house.
While Baughan, 54, has enjoyed playing on the North Meck Park courts since they were built in 2010, it is a place for all ages and skill levels.
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“The courts are heavily used by adults, juniors, for leagues and tournaments, kids’ clinics, lessons, school matches and practices and by the Town of Huntersville,” said Lake Norman Tennis Association president Laurie Cleveland, who also plays tennis four times per week in multiple leagues, which include matches at North Meck Park. “Everyone wants to play at North Meck Park; it’s one of the most popular courts in the entire area.”
The North Mecklenburg Park tennis courts are getting even better by the moment, as each of the six, 78-foot courts are being resurfaced, “to the standard and quality of those used at the U.S. Open” by Court One Construction.
The resurfacing of North Meck Park’s courts was made possible in part to a $10,000 grant awarded to Lake Norman Tennis Association (LNTA) on behalf of the Parks and Recreation department of the Town of Huntersville by the USTA in May.
The total cost of the project is $40,000.
The USTA grant is a part of the “USTA’s Facility Assistance Program,” that has helped build or enhance 39,000 tennis courts across the country, allocating more than $12 million in funds in the last 12 years.
“The courts have always been well-kept and in good condition,” said Baughan, who captains a USTA men’s 4.0 team and a 8.0 mixed doubles’ squad that both play at North Meck Park. “Getting a grant to help pay for improving the courts is a big deal. It means a lot to those of us who love to play there every week.”
Granting the Courts
North Mecklenburg Park’s tennis facility was originally built with the help of a $40,000 grant from the USTA in 2010.
North Meck and Holbrook Parks have benefited greatly from the USTA’s support, receiving $73,000 in funds in the last seven years through grants, according to Huntersville’s Director of Parks and Recreation Michael Jaycocks.
LNTA President Cleveland, who is also the organization’s grant chairman, applied for the grant USTA’s Facility Assistance grant for North Meck Park on May 3. LNTA, a Community Tennis Association, received word they had been awarded the grant May 23. The LNTA and Huntersville worked on a plan to schedule the resurfacing, which began in early July. Upon completion of the project, the USTA will send a check to the LNTA, which they will donate to the Town of Huntersville.
The fresh surfaces on North Meck Park courts have both the regulation white lines for adult play and the shorter court, blue lines for junior play.
“Everybody loves to play on new courts, and this will make North Meck Park’s courts some of the nicest courts around,” said Cleveland, who say she is now working on getting an bigger, USTA grant to help redo Hough High School’s tennis courts. “But the reason I’m so dedicated to projects like this is not just about making a court look better, but getting more people of all ages to play tennis. Ultimately, our goal is to get as many people playing tennis here and coming to play tennis here as possible.”
Jaycocks, Huntersville’s director of parks and recreation for 10 years, says the need for expansion and improvement of tennis facilities in the Lake Norman has grown tremendously with the population in the past two-plus decades. Huntersville’s population has gone from 3,014 in 1990 to 50,458 in 2013, according to huntersville.org.
LNTA has played an integral role in helping tennis’ growth in the area.
“We have a great partnership and relationship with LNTA,” Jaycocks said. “The LNTA has not only done a great job of getting local (players) to play on our courts and in leagues, but also in drawing big state tournaments (of all age) to the area. …
“To draw tournaments, you have to have good facilities. These tournaments are not going to play on courts with cracks or grass growing on them. So getting grants to help build new courts and improve existing courts has been huge.”
Local leaders believe improvements such as the resurfacing of North Mecklenburg Park’s tennis courts will draw new tournaments to local parks.
One of the biggest events North Meck Park helps hosts is the 18 & over USTA League State Championships’ tournament that took place June 9-12.
The park hosts several adult tournaments, such as the 40 & over League State Championships and other junior events throughout the spring, summer and fall.
North Meck Park will be the site of two, L6 Junior Tournaments in August, shortly after new courts are complete.
North Meck Park hopes to continue to be one of the hosts of the bigger tournaments held across multiple parks in the area in different towns, which will not bring more money in Huntersville, but the surrounding area, too.
“We’re excited about the improvements made to North Meck Park’s tennis court, first, because our focus is always on improving the quality of life for people in Huntersville,” Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said. “But, it’s also a big deal because we can partner to bid on tournaments with places like Cornelius, Davidson and other towns to get some of those bigger events and bring more people to the area.”
Jaycocks says the Lake Norman area just started to draw some of the state’s bigger tournaments in the past five years, and they are looking to keep that momentum growing. The more events, the more money pours into the area from visitors.
Larger facilities like North Meck Park with multiple sports facilities help that cause.
“The trend is now to have these big events, like baseball, softball, soccer and tennis tournament at larger facilities with amenities for all sports,” said Jaycocks, noting the town’s car tracker, estimated nearly 360,000 people came to North Meck Park in the 2016 fiscal year. “North Meck Park is definitely one of those kind of places. We want to keep that way.”
A sport for the ages
While many sports help support the local economy in Huntersville and the Lake Norman region, tennis provides a unique opportunity as a sport for all ages.
North Meck Park’s courts see players of all ages, from the juniors to the seniors.
“I plan on playing tennis into my 70s and 80s,” Baughan said, with a laugh. “But, we will see if my body agrees with that.”
“Tennis is something I learned to play when I was 5 years old, and a sport I’ve been playing my whole life, and I hope to keep playing as long as I can,” Cleveland said. “Tennis is truly a lifelong sport and that provides a lot of opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels to enjoy their time on the court.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer:firstname.lastname@example.org
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