Tennis leagues more popular than ever

Randy Kambic
Special to Coastal Life

It’s been another busy season for league play as thousands of men and women recreational tennis players have been crisscrossing Lee and Collier counties, competing in different age and ability categories.

Kathy Sweet, left, captain of a Lee County Women's Tennis League team representing Bonita Bay Club, with Joan Martin, Linda Smith, Ann Weadock, Rosie Wind, Denise Haeberle, Gwyn Robinson and Michele Brown just prior to a recent match.

According to director Doug Welsh, nearly 2,300 players are on 175 teams in seven divisions from 54 communities and clubs in current Collier Tennis Association league play.

Twenty-six facilities are fielding 97 teams of nearly 1,300 players in six divisions of Bonita league action.

“Some communities host both CTA and Bonita teams,” said Welsh. “Both leagues enjoy growth each year due to our area’s economic growth and more tennis players moving here.”

Tricia DiPalo, USTA Collier County local league coordinator, reports that many of the 50-plus participating communities place teams in at least five different divisions.

“We have had 241 different teams just for the fall and winter seasons,” she said.

She has seen an increase since she assumed her position in 2014, with most of the 6,000 who play at some point during the entire year in action now.

“The Club at Mediterra has added a bunch of new teams to the USTA and also Fiddler’s Creek is new in the mix. It’s nice when the communities get involved and add teams for their members,” DiPalo said.

Bonita Bay Club is one of the more active league communities, fielding 18 teams in the Lee County Women’s Tennis League Bonita league and CTA.

For Kathy Sweet, her third season of coordinating participation of 15 members in captaining a 4.0-level LCWTL team has been “a labor of love.”

“I’m kind of organized,” she said. “It’s a lot of work but I don’t mind,” she said of the weekly process that began in mid-October of arranging Monday afternoon practices and determining pairings of four duos for Thursday matches. Away contests have included in Sanibel and Cape Coral. She reports scores each week on a special website.

“I try to mix ability and personality, try to keep everyone happy,” Sweet continued. “We don’t have too many set partnerships as some people are coming and going,” as some are here for two months per year or go on other trips.

“It’s always evolving. We lost some of our best players a few years ago when they moved or joined other leagues.”

Captains

“Our captains are the spine of our league program,” said Paula Scheb, Bonita Bay Club’s director of tennis. “They are the team leaders, determining lineups and court positions, coordinating clinics, communicating with opposing teams, organizing practices and social events, and even managing the carpools to off-site matches. Most feel they are also a confidante and sometimes the team psychologist!”

This season, the LCWTL involved a record 2,067 member players on 211 teams in 15 different divisions at 40 clubs and facilities.

It added two new clubs including Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs and two new senior divisions.

Executive director Marianne Crouch credits the league’s growth in popularity to “the many women who love to play and to our officers, website team, scheduler, captains, co-captains and players for their dedication.”

Sweet has also captained teams at a club in Louisville half the year and has organized high school reunions for many years, so putting in all the time here is second nature to her.

“I just like to step up, get involved,” she said.

“When I was looking to be a seasonal resident down here, I was drawn to Bonita Bay Club due to its established nature in both tennis and golf,” which she also enjoys.

League play is also conducted through USTA Lee County, USPTA, Southwest Florida Team Tennis, Men’s 50- and 70-Plus Tennis Leagues of Lee County, Ultimate Tennis, Lee Country Community Tennis Association, the Southwest Florida Tennis League, BonEro and others.

Beyond the gates

The Shadow Wood Country Club in Bonita Springs will host pros Robert Kendrick, Jesse Witten and Lauren Embree in exhibitions and matches benefitting Alzheimer’s research on March 26 ... The Estero Country Club at The Vines is celebrating its 30th anniversary via a special limited-time joining incentive with a full golf membership ... The Forest Country Club’s tennis events and a private donation last month raised $35,000 for Lee County Special Olympics.