Southside Tennis Complex receives national recognition

Southside Tennis Complex receives national recognition
New courts at Southside Tennis Complex on Hendricks Avenue

Lead pro built program from scratch

When Harrell Thomas heard the news that Southside Tennis Complex was named one of the top public tennis facilities in the nation by the United States Tennis Association, he was ecstatic.

As lead tennis pro at the San Marco courts for the past 29 years, Thomas built the citywide junior tennis program from scratch and watched the tennis courts be transformed from a modest six-court facility in 1986 to the first-rate tennis complex it is today, due to renovations completed in January 2015.

“I’ve seen it grow up,” Thomas said. “We were excited to be recognized as one of the best facilities in the country.”

On June 16, the Jacksonville tennis complex was among 13 tennis centers to win USTA’s 2015 Facility Awards.  Representatives from Southside Tennis Complex will be honored by USTA at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City Sept. 6.

It is the 34th year USTA has recognized excellence in the construction and/or renovation of tennis facilities throughout the country. Southside was highlighted along with five other public facilities in the Large Tennis Center category for establishments with 11 or more courts. It was the only facility in Florida to be recognized by the USTA this year.

Tennis Coach Harrell Thomas

Tennis Coach Harrell Thomas

“Great tennis facilities like the Southside Tennis Complex help us to grow the game at the grass-roots level, and we are proud to recognize them for their ongoing impact on the sport of tennis,” said Kurt Kamperman, USTA’s Chief Executive of Community Tennis. “The Southside Tennis Complex has embraced many of our tennis initiatives and kept the sport at the forefront of their community each year.”

The renovation program, which was spearheaded by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, refurbished the six hard courts and six clay courts, painting dual purpose lines on four of the hard courts so they can be used as 36-foot courts, the recommended size for children ages five through seven.

Under Thomas’ tutelage as pro, the complex has grown from six courts to a 12-court facility with locker rooms, fencing, lighting, parking, a tennis shop and office, said Pam Roman of the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department.

“The facility is comprehensive. Without Lori Boyer, none of it would have been built,” Thomas said.

But Boyer credited Thomas and his staff as the reason the Jacksonville courts were recognized. “Congratulations go to our Parks Department, Coach Thomas, his staff and the many players and volunteers that contribute to the success of Southside Tennis every day on the receipt of this prestigious award,” Boyer said. “USTA recognized what we have known for many years – this facility, and the people who work and play there – are truly outstanding.”

Pro has creds, too

A graduate of Andrew Jackson High School and a former varsity tennis player for Jacksonville University, Thomas lives in Arlington with his wife Sharon, a teacher at Julia Landon College Preparatory School.

Coach Harrell Thomas gives a private lesson on the new clay court.

Coach Harrell Thomas gives a private lesson on the new clay court.

Among tennis professionals, Thomas is considered an “elite professional” and is certified by both the United States Professional Tennis Association and the Professional Tennis Registry. He is also a member of USTA, Professional Tennis Registry and the USTA National Junior Tennis League. He has presided over Southside Tennis’ program since its inception in 1986 and has watched thousands of children grow up to become accomplished tennis players over the years. Several of his pupils have earned collegiate tennis scholarships and he has also taught many who followed in his footsteps, becoming professional tennis instructors.

“I’ve played sports all my life, but tennis seemed to resonate with me as I didn’t get past five-foot-seven,” Thomas said, chuckling. In high school Thomas played football, basketball, track as well as tennis, but specialized in the racquet sport once he attended college. When he was young he won several district level events, he said modestly. Most recently, he won the American Tennis Association National Championship in men’s singles and doubles in his age group (55 and older) in Fort Lauderdale in 2012.

But more than his own success, Thomas is proud that his USTA 65 and older 6.0 team comprised of Elsie Barnes, Judy Gabler, Bev Thompson, Elsie Ong, Tamara Rodda and Linda Routh has won its sectional tournament each year for the past three years and placed third in the national championship in Surprise, Ariz., in 2014-15.

Thomas said he expects the newly refurbished Southside Tennis facility will have a positive impact on his citywide junior program, which has always been open to children regardless of their parents’ financial abilities. Prior to the renovations, mainly adult teams played out of the complex. It is Thomas’s hope that youth teams will be added as more participation comes from kids within the San Marco community and other parts of the city.

“Before, it was mostly just summer and afterschool. Now it is my hope to increase programming for kids year around,” Thomas said, noting that 13 adult teams (men, women, and mixed doubles) call the complex home.

“When recreation is your profession, it’s pretty satisfying to see it grow,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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