AUGUSTA — It wasn’t a prerequisite, but everyone who attended Saturday’s grand opening of the A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center arrived wearing a smile.
It’s been more than six years since indoor tennis was available in the area and when Ascona Fitness closed its doors, many patrons stopped playing during the winter months altogether while others looked elsewhere.
Dale Demers, of Manchester, played tennis at the Leighton Road facility when it first opened as Capital Tennis in the mid-1970s. When it closed, he went to Champions in Waterville as did several others in attendance Saturday.
“A lot of them didn’t,” said Demers, who plays 3-5 times a week.”It was so sad to see this closed. It was depressing. I’m addicted to tennis so I had to go up to Waterville.”
The new facility is the result of a fundraising effort by the Kennebec Valley Tennis Association which is still $15,000 short of its goal of $300,000. The KVTA scoured the area for a suitable site to build or locate a new facility, but settled on the old site at 23 Leighton Road after being approached by the Gall family which owns the building.
KVTA president Dan Bence estimates the Galls saved the organization $125,000 through donations and in-kind services. It opened six weeks ago and has drawn plenty of business so far, including a group of 29 who showed up Friday night.
“The (four) courts were full while the rest of them watched and socialized,” Cony tennis coach and instructor Wilbur Shardlow said.
The social aspect of the tennis facility is an important one.
“Tennis is an activity that is much more than hitting a ball back and forth,” director of tennis and general manager Hans Romer told the assembled group. “It connects people.”
In addition to a refurbished lobby and new locker rooms, the facility has a new heating system. The courts will be resurfaced and painted the week of July 4, Bence said. Naming rights for each of the four courts have been sold and each has a sign on it. They’re called Charlie’s, Wendy, Wayne and Holm for Charlie’s Motor Mall, Wendy’s of Maine, Wayne Community Tennis and Hilary Holm, who is a member of the KVTA board of directors.
“Instead of building a tennis court in my backyard in Whitefield, this is what I gave myself for a 50th birthday present,” Holm said.
The lingering winter and snow cover will likely delay the start of the high school tennis season which makes the opening all the more timely.
The court has already set reduced rates for youngsters and teams to practice and will be available for matches that would otherwise be rained out.
“For the past six years that the club has been closed it’s been a real disadvantage,” Shardlow said. “It’s hurt tennis in this area. With seven high schools in our area it’s needed. It’s more about giving the kids an opportunity to develop than it is about any particular team.”
The opening drew several tennis luminaries from throughout New England including Eric Driscoll and Ron Friedman from USTA New England as well as Boston Lobsters coach Bob Greene and team owner Bahar Uttam who has a home in Wayne. Uttam found about the facility while attending church, an act he called divine intervention and offered tickets and hotel accommodations to a Lobsters World Team Tennis match as an auction item.
“We’re here to promote tennis,” Uttam said. “Let’s take tennis to the next level.”