Covering the tennis courts at Jackson Hole High School is not a new idea, but organizers hope it will stick this time.
“I know we’re not the first people to try this,” Susan Gervais said. “It comes in and out, but we thought it was worth a try.”
Gervais is part of a team that includes Heidi Jost and Diane McGee. They are trying to gather funding and public support to build a structure that would cover at least some of the courts at the high school during the winter and be removed in the summer.
For those who don’t participate in skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing or other snowy activities, the long winter can be hard to endure. Covered courts would open up one more sport to those who avoid the snow.
“Not everybody skis all winter,” Gervais said. “A lot of people love to play tennis, so it’s a nice alternative to snow sports.”
With limited places people can swing a racquet and a long winter, Jackson can be a tough place to hack it for tennis diehards. The same goes for the rest of Wyoming, said Peg Connor, executive director of the United States Tennis Association’s Wyoming district.
Winter can last half the year in Wyoming, which for communities that lack covered courts essentially means no one can play.
Connor said the entire state has approximately 20 covered courts, private and public. Some are at places like Teton Pines in Wilson, others at University of Wyoming or in community centers.
With court numbers in the single digits in individual cities across the state, creating a year-round tennis community is “an uphill slog,” she said.
“Despite that, we have a solid core of USTA members, especially high school tennis players,” Connor said. “We have 17 teams with over 550 high school players. They find a way to do a high school tennis season.”
In Jackson, U.S. Open hopefuls have to head to Teton Pines for indoor winter tennis. The private club hosts younger nonmembers three days each week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — offering drills to improve skills and courts to play on.
Tennis players ages 5 to 12 can come two days a week, while those 13 to 18 can come all three days. Teton Pines offers a discounted rate to those kids who want to play, $22.50 per day for the younger ones, and $37.50 for the older set.
Those prices mean playing tennis could cost hundreds of dollars each month during the winter, which might be prohibitive for some families. Teton Pines tennis pro Julie Weinberger, who also coaches the high school tennis teams, said the sticker shock shouldn’t turn families away.
“If cost is an issue,” she said, “we encourage them to talk to me or the director of tennis, and we’ll find a solution.”
Gervais and her compatriots have met with Teton County School District No. 1 officials and the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department. The courts are on school district land, but Gervais’ understanding from speaking with Parks and Rec staff is that the county agency would maintain the covered courts if they are constructed.
Calls to Parks Manager Andy Erskine and Director Steve Ashworth were not returned by press time. Gervais said neither entity had much money to contribute to the project, so she has turned to Connor and USTA for guidance.
“They are helping develop the initiative and are an intermediary to USTA national grants, design resources and business planning support,” Gervais said.
Similar to the effort to expand the skatepark that is working its way through the system, covering the tennis courts will need the blessing of the school district and Parks and Rec. Gervais hasn’t gone before either entity with a specific proposal because she wants to have costs and designs drawn out beforehand.
Connor’s organization has relationships with contractors that build such structures, so USTA is helping connect the Teton County effort with someone who can build it. Money may be the trickier part of the project, however.
USTA has some grants that help cover construction costs, but they won’t be for the entire cost of building or maintenance. Philanthropy may be needed to cover the rest, which would show wide support.
“We feel the community should rally those resources,” Connor said. “It will provide the first domino to fall in terms of attracting funding.”
To gauge community support, Gervais has written a survey, which can be found at TinyURL.com/tenniscourtsjh. The team hopes that by beginning the process and getting a feel for community, it can finally make the push to cover the courts.
“If we’re going to grow tennis in Wyoming,” Connor said, “we need to increase access to affordable courts.”