The Janet H. Jopke Courts are a labor of love for tennis enthusiasts

At one time, more than 50 tennis courts dotted Bay City. Look around now, though, and it’s a different story. Public tennis courts are rare. Tennis courts are expensive to maintain, and there’s not always room for upkeep in city budgets.

A group in Bay City wants to change that.

The Bay Community Tennis Association’s general mission is to make tennis accessible to any person. In doing so, the group also hopes to improve the overall health of the community.

The BCTA board is comprised of 10 members; all residents who love the game or who simply love Bay City and want to see great offerings in town.

The first (and largest) project that the BCTA took on was the fundraising, planning, and construction of an outdoor, eight-court facility.

Bay County Executive Jim Barcia spoke at the grand opening event in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Janet H. Jopke Courts)Joe Ricard, BCTA President, spearheaded the grassroots fundraising campaign. Through the efforts of members and donors – including Shaw Contracting’s donation of services for the construction of the courts – the ambitious $600,000 goal was achieved.

According to the BCTA website, the main goals of the organization are to:
 
  • Provide courts for recreational and competitive use
  • Promote health, fitness, and athletic excellence
  • Maintain the facility and park through community support

According to Jane Klawon, BCTA Vice President, “We want to provide the community with an activity; that lifelong sport; that social side of life. We want to stay healthy; we want to provide people with the means to live an active life. And to try tennis because it’s an amazing sport.”

And it all began with a simple question. A high school student in 2012 wondered, “What’s it going to take to get better courts?” From there, the BCTA’s mission began, and it was officially recognized as a nonprofit in 2015.

The property of the new park is where Thomas Jefferson Elementary once stood. The school had been closed for years, and Bay City Public Schools allowed the demolition of the vacant building to make way for the new courts. In 2019, the facility opened as what is now known as the Janet H. Jopke Courts at Richard Shaw Park. The area now serves as the main public courts of Bay City.

Organizers didn't waste any time putting the courts to good use. Kids played tennis during the grand opening in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Janet H. Jopke Courts)Located at 325 Park Ave. on the East side of Bay City, the courts are free to use. Community members can play anytime during daylight hours when there are not pre-planned programs taking place. The BCTA organizes many kids’ programs, as well as adaptive tennis for those with different abilities. They host social nights every Monday and Tuesday and they welcome any community member who wants to join in.

While no organized leagues are currently scheduled at the courts, that day may not be far away. They are seeing more groups of people coming out regularly and they’d like to make organized league play happen. Keep in touch with BCTA on social media to stay updated on what’s going on at the courts.

While their largest project has been completed, the board’s work is far from over. Michigan weather is harsh on tennis courts, and it’s already been taking its toll. There are cracks forming, and the board is fundraising to stop the spread. A complete resurfacing will be needed within ten years of construction, and annual upkeep is necessary to extend the surface life of the courts.

To achieve this goal, the BCTA board has organized several fundraisers.

One of their most successful efforts was a raffle that wrapped up in August. The group sold more than 850 raffle tickets and gave out cash prizes totaling $20,000. The funds raised help the board feel more at ease as they prepare for the next couple years of maintenance.

“Our goal is to grow tennis and keep our courts nice,” Klawon says. “We’re really proud of [the courts] and we want the community to use them. We want to keep them maintained for everybody.”

It’s easy to tell that many community members support the mission of the BCTA. Visitors at the courts will find a donor wall with over 100 names of individuals, families, and organizations that contributed to the project. Many community members have even donated rackets so that those new to the sport can give it a shot without needing to buy anything.

Proponents of tennis say it’s a unique sport in that it requires little equipment and as few as two players.

Klawon, also the Varsity coach of the Bay City Central girls’ tennis team, says that interest in tennis increased during COVID restrictions. Tennis was a sport that was safe to play throughout the pandemic. It’s not a close-contact sport and can be played outdoors.

Last spring, 30 girls came out for the Central High School team, enough to fill both Varsity and JV rosters with extra players.

The new courts serve as the home for the Central High School tennis teams, but the board would love to see more people use them each day.

“We’re not just the high school courts,” Klawon says. “We’re trying to expand even further and we’re providing tennis to any age, anybody out there that wants to play. We want to be the place for you, and we want to make you love the game like we do.”

For more information on using the courts or supporting the BCTA’s mission, visit baycitytennis.com or contact baycommunitytennis@gmail.com.