Gary Horvath is a USPTA master pro, founder and past president of the USA Professional Platform Tennis Association prior to its merger with USPTA, a certified coach with USA Volleyball and a long-standing member of the Wilson Advisory Staff.
His experience as a tennis pro has covered the entire spectrum from grassroots to college tennis. In addition, Gary Horvath has conducted extensive business and economic research that has largely supported the state of Colorado's economic development efforts.
The Cheeseburger and Apple Pie Tour – Creating Access to Tennis
By Gary Horvath
Back in the day, when I was on tour, tennis was much different. It was less commercial and more innocent. While on the tour, I interacted with a different set of players every day and have fond memories of the various stops along the way.
No, it was not that tour where the big boys and girls played in front of cameras. The sponsors of this tour called it the Colorado Rural Recreation Program (CRRP). I affectionately referred to it as the Colorado Cheeseburger and Apple Pie A La Mode tour.
The plains leading to rural Creede, Colorado
The CRRP successfully provided people in rural Colorado with easy access to summer recreation and arts programs. That included tennis. It was short-lived because of organizational issues not related to the program.
The following paragraphs provide an overview of the CRRP. I hope the alphabet soup of tennis, recreation, and youth programs will think about the concepts of the CRRP as they try to provide people with easier access to arts, recreation, and tennis programs.
The CRRP in Colorado
A few facts about Colorado will make it easier to have a greater appreciation for the CRRP.
In Colorado, there is a political, industrial, and economic divide between the 17 urban counties and the 47 rural counties. Today between 85% and 90% of the population, wages, real GDP, and employment are in the 17 urban counties.
Colorado is the 8th largest state. It has 64 counties spread across 103,718 square miles. Currently, there are slightly more than 400 cities and towns in Colorado, and only about 25 cities have more than 10,000 people. At least 75% of Colorado's municipalities have a population of less than 5,000. Many of them are in rural counties.
At the time of the project, about 3.3 million people lived in Colorado. Today the population is about 5.8 million. Most of the growth has occurred in urban areas. The primary industries in the smaller communities serviced by the CRRP included government, state prisons, tourism, retail, and education. The smaller communities lack the presence and support of major corporations such as Walmart or IBM.
When you get to Creede, take the fork in the road
Each summer, the CRRP provided people living in 20 small rural communities access to recreation, arts, music, and tennis programs.
The CRRP Stakeholders
The CRRP had five groups of stakeholders.
Abandoned mineshaft surrounding Creede
Managers – The CRRP was managed by employees of an outreach center at the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB). The UCB staff found sponsors that wanted to host the CRRP. They hired the recreation coordinators, found people to deliver special programs such as tennis, dance, and music, and provided training for the recreation coordinators.
Several weeks before the start of the program, the UCB staff held a training session and retreat. The recreation coordinators learned how to promote and run physical activity and arts programs. Some of the individuals who provided special programs also attended the training session. For example, I conducted a tennis clinic on an outdoor asphalt basketball court for the coordinators.
Recreation Coordinators - The recreation coordinators were typically college students looking for a summer job to gain experience in the sports and recreation industry.
Communities – The CRRP was limited to rural communities that did not have a summer recreation program and had fewer than 5,000 people. They were required to provide facilities for the programs and help make housing arrangements for the recreation coordinators.
Sponsor - The primary commercial sponsor was U.S. West, formerly Mountain Bell. During the late-1980s, the telephone company was a focal part of every community in Colorado. For that reason, U.S. West was an ideal sponsor. Their sponsorship covered many of the expenses associated with the local programs.
Participants – Many aspects of the program were for youth. Some programs included adults and families.
Abandoned mineshaft surrounding Creede
Highlights of the Colorado Cheeseburger Tour
The time I spent on the Colorado Cheeseburger tour provided me with experiences that defined the program values. When a person drives through rural parts of a state, it is easy to forget that each community has a distinct personality. At the same time, the rural Colorado communities had commonalities. They had a different perspective on life and a different set of priorities. In my opinion, they collectively had the best and cheapest cheeseburgers, fries, and apple pie a la mode in the state.
One of the first stops was in Ordway. We had to sweep broken glass off the courts before the clinic. Tennis was not popular in the town. As a result, attendance at the clinic was low.
There was nothing better than starting the day with a clinic in a scenic mountain town such as Frisco. At the same time, it was disappointing to have to conduct a clinic in the high school gym in Nederland on a picture-perfect June afternoon. Even without local courts, people showed up to learn about tennis.
Side street in Creede
Wray had the best recreation facility. I will never forget the wheat combines driving through town and past the courts as part of the July wheat harvest. At the time, Wray was building a recreation center. A local native had moved away to make his millions. Upon his return, he was committed to sharing his good fortune with his hometown. Providing funds for the recreation center was one way he gave back to the community.
Creede was another town without courts. Attendance at the clinic in the high school gymnasium was modest. That evening the CRRP recreation director and I had front row seats at the local melodrama. Attendance at the clinic might have been better if it had been promoted as "Volleys and Villains."
The visit to San Jon was humbling. The clinic was not held because of a death in the community. In small towns, there are close ties between the residents. Everyone attended the funeral and spent the day together honoring their friend. (Fewer than 500 people lived in San Jon). This experience reminded me that there are things in life more important than tennis.
The most memorable clinic was in Sugar City. I ran it on the home-made court of the town’s most avid tennis player. He had leveled off an area, packed it down, and kept it free of weeds. He chalked the lines and set up a net and short retaining fence behind the baselines to keep the balls from going in his fields. There were a group of people who played with him regularly. There are not enough words to describe the passion the Sugar City players had for playing tennis.
Creating Access to Tennis in Communities
Just as tennis teaches many lessons about life, The CRRP taught me the following lessons about the importance of making tennis accessible to rural communities. These same lessons apply to other types of communities.
1). The best way to promote arts and recreation (tennis) programs is to make sure there is easy access to courts and instruction. Players must have the opportunity to learn and participate. The CRRP was successful because the opportunity to play was in the local community.
2). Every community has different priorities, assets, and passion for the sport. Not all participating towns in the CRRP chose to have tennis clinics. The program focused on providing activities that would benefit the community.
3). It is possible to introduce players to tennis without a tennis court; however, tennis courts are necessary for comprehensive programs. The number of CCRP clinics conducted on basketball courts outnumbered the clinics held on tennis courts.
4). The CRRP had a mix of ongoing and one-time activities. Effective tennis programs should have both types of activities to be effective in a community.
5). It makes sense to package tennis with other arts and other recreational activities. Activity breeds activity.
6). When communities build courts, they must maintain them and provide various types of tennis programs.
The small, rural communities in the CRRP often needed financial or technical assistance. The same is true of many communities. The various tennis, recreation, and youth organizations are encouraged to apply the concepts of the CRRP to the communities in their state or city. It is essential to the future of tennis to create access to programs and opportunities to play and learn.
Note: Photos were taken by Gary Horvath's daughter Allyson.
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