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League History

The Austin Tennis League (ATL) is a community team tennis league founded in 1971 by Gary Terrell, Tom Graham and several other tennis players, including military personnel stationed at the former Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. The first season of the league was played with about ten teams and one division at Austin Recreation Center, Caswell Tennis Center and several courts around the city. Play consisted of each team fielding six players to play two lines of singles and two lines of doubles. Two of the unique features of this public league were the gender-blind composition of the league (men and women play together) and the use of sets and not matches to determine team standings. The league began to grow quickly and soon became a league administered by the City of Austin's Parks and Recreation Department (PARD). The league ran a fall and a spring league roughly paralleling the area schools' calendar (the University of Texas and the Austin Independent School District). The mild winters in central Texas allowed for tennis play in the fall league in November and league play in February during the spring season. Summers were reserved for family vacations, area tournaments, informal tennis play, and other recreational activities between seasons.

With the support of PARD, the league grew in the early 1970s. The league's first city administrator was Danny Hobby, whose official title was Supervisor of Tennis within PARD. The supervisor's duties included running ATL and managing PARD's tennis facilities. By the mid-1970s, the City of Austin formed a partnership with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) to designate several area tennis courts at high schools, junior highs and middle schools for league play on Saturdays. Each team was charged a fee to offset the costs of municipal tennis courts, balls and other administrative costs. The City of Austin also partnered with AISD in the mid-1970s in building eight courts at Austin High to be used jointly by the city and the school district.

With the construction of eight courts at Austin High, eight municipal courts at Pharr Tennis Center added in the late 1970s, and the ten municipal courts at South Austin Tennis Center built in the early 1980s, ATL had the facilities to support a growing league. Several area country clubs also began to participate in ATL, and many of these began using their own facilities as home courts, thereby enlarging the availability of tennis facilities for league play.

ATL took advantage of the tennis boom across the country throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and the league grew to serve more than 800 players. As the player base expanded, the league divided into more and more divisions to accommodate different skill levels. In the 1980s, PARD's Tony Hall took over the position of Supervisor of Tennis and managed the league with the assistance of a volunteer ATL committee to set league policy and handle disputes.

As the tennis boom began to wane in the mid-1980s, ATL maintained its success mainly by placing emphasis on the league as a fun league. And since the league allowed players of different skill levels to play on the same team, teams composed of office mates, church groups, neighbors, husbands and wives and other groups found the league an appropriate outlet to play tennis.

In the late 1980s, the City of Austin decided to model its tennis program after the city's golf program. The city elected to award contracts for the management of municipal tennis facilities. ATL also needed to become self-supporting without any PARD administrative staffing. PARD decided to bundle the contract to administer the league with the contract to administer South Austin Tennis Center. Sheryl Behne became the first administrator of ATL outside the city in 1987.

One year later, the Capital Area Tennis Association (CATA), an area association formed in 1974 and recognized by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), assumed administration of the league and ran the league successfully with its other programs for thirteen years. As CATA's own USTA leagues began to expand, the organization was able to coordinate its different adult leagues (men's, women's, mixed, seniors'), many of which shared the same players.

In 2001, CATA decided to focus on its other tennis programs including a growing USTA men's and women's league played in the spring and summer. CATA proposed a shorter schedule for ATL seasons, with a fall season running in July and August and a spring season running in January and February. CATA's board of directors also passed a requirement that any player participating in a CATA-administered league must become a dues-paying member of the association.

Several ATL committee members believed that players themselves should decide whether to accept this proposal or maintain the league in its traditional format and season dates under another administrator. The ATL committee polled team captains in November 2001. ATL captains overwhelmingly supported the option to maintain the league as it had always been operated, and CATA relinquished control of the league's administration in fall 2001.

The ATL committee began a search for another administrator for the spring 2002 league. The committee awarded a contract to Maggie Yanez, administrator of Pharr Tennis Center, to run the league. The committee also began the construction of an Internet-based league to be used for communications with team captains and players. Committee members John Kitchens and Stefanie Williams applied their programming and Web site expertise toward building a largely electronically-administered league where teams enrolled players on-line and posted results of matches on ATL's new Web site. Committee member Leon Kincy also initiated proceedings to have ATL recognized as a non-profit organization at the state level and at the federal level for tax purposes. Mr. Kincy also initiated proceedings to have the league recognized by the USTA as a Community Tennis Association (CTA).

The spring 2002 season saw the committee and new administrator manage the transition, and the league continued its success with more than 1,000 players competing on 72 teams in 12 divisions.

Today, ATL is a non-profit organization and a CTA with a bright future as a community tennis league. ATL's appeal has always been its reputation as a grassroots tennis league built upon the idea of fun but competitive tennis. A board of volunteers who serve no fixed terms govern the league, so leadership generally mirrors the desires and interests of league players. Anyone can join ATL, and anyone can volunteer to serve on the board.

 

 
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