VALDOSTA –– Valdosta-Lowndes Parks and Recreation held a ribbon cutting for the Harry B. Anderson Tennis Center expansion on Tuesday morning at McKey Park.
Mildred Hunter Center Coordinator Andre Newson gave the invocation, followed by remarks by Lowndes County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Slaughter, Mayor John Gayle and VLPRA Executive Director George Page.
The expansion of Harry B. Anderson Tennis Center features six new tennis courts, which began construction last fall. Citing the success of the tennis center hosting the USTA Mixed Doubles State Championship last August, Gayle lauds the facility for its ability to draw crowds and being second to none when it comes to tennis facilities in the state.
"We're so thankful that we have these facilities that draw such a crowd," Gayle said. "I've watched some other cities. I go around and see other tennis facilities in other cities –– one is Rome, Georgia –– they have nothing on the city of Valdosta, I assure you, and they've spent millions of dollars on their facilities over there. ... I look forward to seeing the crowds that will be here. I look forward to seeing the people getting exercise out here playing tennis. And thank you so much to (VLPRA) for leading this charge and we look forward to the future."
The tennis center will once again host the USTA Mixed Doubles State Championship beginning on Friday, Aug. 9.
"This is a very excited time for our tennis community and our community in general," Prince said of the ribbon cutting. "We are thrilled to be hosting the 2019 USTA Georgia Mixed Doubles State Championships in Valdosta this weekend. I think this has been a dream of many of us that I see sitting in the crowd for quite some time because we've all traveled to other cities within our state to play these state championship tournaments.
"I've spent much time up in Rome, Georgia; Dalton, Georgia; Peachtree City; Atlanta; Augusta, and we all were thinking to ourselves at this time, if we can travel here and if they can host a tournament, why can't we? Why can we not host events like this? Whenever we started questioning the USTA, one of the biggest things was, they wanted to see more courts in closer proximity. So I started making a plea many years ago –– and I think Keith has as well –– to add more courts to this already wonderful facility. So we're so excited, with these new six courts, that we were awarded the bid for two years to host this event."
For its work in hosting last year's tournament, Tennis Valdosta was recognized by the state Georgia with the 2018 Tennis Event of the Year award. Prince spoke of the impact the tennis facility is having in the community, specifically with players, young and old, frequenting the courts throughout the week to enjoy friendly competition and stay fit.
"That speaks volumes for our tennis community and our community in general," Prince said of the award. "We come together. We come together and win and we know how to do things the right way. Not only does this facility have a huge economic impact on our community, but it also promotes a healthy lifestyle for people to be able to come out and to play in a facility like this each and every day."
As for this year's Mixed Doubles State Championship, more than 24,000 players in Georgia battled for a berth in the tournament. Tennis ball company Penn will supply all of the balls for each match of the tournament.
Page praised the work of Childree and Prince for helping the growth the game in the area. Perhaps teasing future endeavors for tennis in the Valdosta-Lowndes County area, Page foresees more expansion in the establishment of more courts in a few years' time.
"We have a tennis pro here in Valdosta-Lowndes County, Keith Childree, and he does an amazing job," Page said. "You all just don't know what he does each and every day to grow the sport of tennis for our community. He's actually on the state board –– he just got elected for a position there and he has a good voice for us here. Our president of the Valdosta Tennis Association, Suzan Prince, she's an avid tennis player and she does an amazing job –– her and her team –– to bring these events here. But also, I will tell you, even with these six courts here, we have 18 courts here –– this place is packed. It really gets a great deal of use and (this expansion) was desperately needed."
"Our tennis is growing and probably in a few more years, we'll be adding some more courts somewhere else and we're really excited about the opportunity to see it here. ... This is a championship win for our community today."