Hip Mom: Tennis Anyone?

Either I live under a rock, or a large pile of squirming kids, because it is only slowly, very slowly, that I start to notice there is an obsession claiming the lives of Tulsa mothers everywhere. Chardonnay?  Juvederm fillers? Eyelash bars?

No, this pursuit is addictive, time-consuming, and requires its devotees to sport super-cute skirts and buy yet even more shoes: “Oh, I can’t meet you for happy hour – I have tennis drills.”

“No, I can’t go shoe shopping – I have a tennis lesson – maybe tomorrow?”

“I’m happy to pick him up – I’ll grab him after tennis!”

“I’m not sure if I can come to a pool party – I have a tennis tournament!”

What is going on here? Is every female in Tulsa playing tennis except me? Why is all this tennis playing cutting into my posse’s availability for more slothful pursuits like margaritas by the pool? Are you playing tennis? What am I missing? I decide to investigate!

First, I talk to my good friend Christa H., who is always coming to, or going from, tennis commitments in her gorgeous tennis wear. Christa started taking lessons and doing “drills” (akin to soccer practice for my boys, she says) just 15 months ago. Now, she estimates, she spends six out of seven days playing tennis at The Grand Health and Racquet Club at 91st and Delaware. She had never picked up a racket before!  But she finds she loves both the workout and camaraderie that playing provides. Christa explains how the tennis seasons work, roughly: During the fall, there are the “less competitive” matches through Tulsa Competitive Tennis (TCT), when you sharpen your skills and just have fun.  From February through May, things heat up: this is United States Tennis Association (USTA) season. USTA League is the largest recreational tennis league in the country with more than 800,000 participants. The group provides competitive match play for all ages and skill levels, and all players have the opportunity to advance to a local, district, section and national championship.

Here in Tulsa, there are several venues for playing tennis. Besides The Grand, there is Philcrest Hills Tennis Club at 109th and Delaware, where my friend Lisette P. plays. My buds Ailee N. and Jennifer P. play at Southern Hills. There’s also Shadow Mountain Tennis Club off 61st and Memorial, and Indian Springs Country Club in Broken Arrow. But best of all, perhaps, and most affordable, is right smack dab in the middle of Tulsa: La Fortune Park Tennis Center, off 51st and Yale. LaFortune is on its way to becoming a world-class tennis facility. Since 2008, a $2.2 million multi-phase project has transformed the park, attracting more and more players to the game. La Fortune now has 21 lighted outdoor courts, and is currently conducting a capital campaign to add a Pro Shop and three indoor courts – the first public indoor courts in Tulsa.

I asked Melissa McKorkle, the tennis director at LaFortune, how a girl can get started in tennis if she (like me, save a brief stint during an especially awkward 8th grade summer) has never picked up a racquet? Melissa suggested group lessons. These are quite affordable — $40 for two hour-long sessions, plus a $10 registration fee. And, the times are convenient for moms – 6 p.m. on Mondays (maybe dad is home to watch the munchkins), or 10 a.m. on Thursdays (when the brood is in school), both for 6 weeks.  Private lessons, for more one-on-one time with an instructor, still aren’t exorbitant — $40 per hour.  Once you’ve played a bit, you can sign up for the group drills – which are just $15 for two to three hours.  Then you’re probably ready for league play.

Leagues run six to eight weeks in the fall and spring and cost just $25 to register. Besides the USTA league play, LaFortune also hosts its own – slightly less intense – league play. So tennis in Tulsa is hardly limited to the private clubs!

So, why, I ask Melissa, are so many Tulsa ladies pounding the courts?

“Lots of reasons,” Melissa said. “It’s an opportunity to socialize, to exercise and to wear cute clothes!  It’s an affordable sport, too – it used to be viewed as an elitist sport, but no longer. The USTA and league play also offer structure, so that you have something to work towards and measure your progress. So, in that sense, tennis has something in common with Bible study or book clubs – you are getting together with women, socializing, but also learning something and making progress.”

LaFortune has leagues for all ages, too. One of their most popular leagues is for women in their 50s and 60s. So it’s not a game for just the young, yummy mummies.

Melissa also demystifies the USTA “rankings” for me. Beginners start at about a 2.0. Roger Federer is a 10.0, so there’s a lot of room for everyone within the rankings – she says the best players in Tulsa are about 5.5.

I ask my good friend, Jennifer P., why she plays. She is gearing up for Bruce G. Weber Tennis Classic, the proceeds of which benefit The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis. I would place my bets on Jennifer and her partner, Mary W., for the tournament – they won the 3.0 Doubles in the Tulsa World Tennis Tournament this past June.

Jennifer says, “[Tennis] is much less boring for me than running. When you’re mentally figuring out where the ball is going, you forget you’re exercising. With running, I was always aware how many miles I had to go.”

Plus, she says, it’s a workout for your whole body, with all the twisting and turning. Another thing I notice about tennis players is that these girls come in all shapes and sizes – it’s an equal opportunity workout, not just for super fit triathletes. While a lot of moms play doubles, playing singles is an even better workout – you have to cover the whole court.

Why does Jennifer play?  “To win. I’m not there to have cocktails with these ladies.”  Go, Jennifer!

My friend Lisette P. has turned her hobby into something of a family enterprise. She has played for 2 ½ years, and is ranked a 3. She plays at Philcrest Hills Tennis Club, where she has been coached by Russell Warner, the head tennis pro there. Russell has an exhaustive list of the “Ten Commandments of Tennis” on the Philcrest website, with such gems as “The Ten Commandments for Playing Mixed Doubles with Your Spouse” (“Thou shalt not covet another partner”), or “The Ten Commandments of Tennis Nutrition and Fitness” (“Thou shalt emphasize body composition rather than weight as a guide to a healthy body”). The Philcrest has a long and rich association with the USTA, hosting its Challenger tournament for tennis pros in the past. Lisette has found tennis so enjoyable she’s gotten both her teenage daughter and 3rd grade son involved in Philcrest’s junior tennis program. Lisette’s husband plays too, so – wow! An activity the whole family can enjoy, which seems so rare to find in today’s kid-centric whirl of activities.

Now, the fun part — where to shop for cute tennis clothes? All the moms I talk to schlep to Lululemon for the best quality. Of course Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy have a lot to offer, too. Ailee N. also likes the Pro Shop at Southern Hills.

So is tennis for you? I start to notice a pattern:  a lot of the moms I talk to have kids who are just a wee bit older than mine – safely past the toddler stage. Ailee N., for example, started playing two years ago, when her youngest was 3. It seems this is a good age to start playing, when the kids might be in preschool regularly – or at least won’t derail your morning match with a blowout of stratospheric proportions. For mommies of babies, a more flexible workout schedule might be easier. With tennis, you have to be there at a certain time, people are counting on you – and we know that as soon as solid plans are made, the toddler will spike a fever or the baby will start teething and not let you leave her for more than three minutes at a stretch. But as your kids get older, you may be able to – most of the time  – meet a tennis schedule. What a strange feeling that must be.

Maybe this quotation from Lee Ann Webster on the USTA website sums it up best:  “Driving to a USTA match after I drop the kids off at school is absolutely exhilarating! What other sport will produce butterflies in my tummy, as I crank up ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on the iPod after scouting my competitor on the computer the night before? I need this game!”

Well, ok, then – tennis, anyone?

Categories: Hip Mom