Manhattan needs nicer tennis facilities

Jonathan Grove, Videographer

The temperatures are getting warmer, the flowers are beginning to bloom, and the harsh winter conditions are fading. With the spring season officially here, Manhattan High is about to kick off it’s first boys tennis season after what has felt like an eternity because of the COVID pandemic. 

The Indians have won five consecutive league titles, and with the talent on the roster this season, the possibility of a sixth is very likely. But while the tennis team has had a lot of success the last few years, they were playing on what could be considered the worst tennis courts in the state.

Tennis, compared to some of the bigger “money” sports, is typically put to the back in terms of not only fundraising for the team, but also providing upgrades or renovations to the facility when the team needs it most. Here’s pretty much our facility summarized. Just imagine that the Indians skipped home football games for a year or so because the field was full of divots or the yard markers were all worn away. Imagine that baseball games had to be moved out of town because nobody bothered to rake gravel out of the infield. Try to envision skipping the basketball season because the rims were all bent. Get the picture? 

While I don’t necessarily have a problem with being put to the back compared to other sports (believe me, I see it as I commentate for basketball games) it’s been unfortunate looking at how our facility situation compared to not only our other sports at this school, but some of the other schools that field a tennis team. Think about it: Abilene, Clay Center, Pratt, Hesston, Russell — these are some of the towns with far nicer facilities. And don’t get me started with the facilities in Wichita, Olathe and Topeka, which are on a whole different level.

I recently went over to City Park to look over some of the issues that we’ve had to deal with. The surfaces of the courts looked as if it was damaged by an earthquake. Having cracks on the courts can result in injuries during rallies, or stop of play because the ball hit the cracks, and would bounce in different locations, making it an unfair advantage to the person who has to already go after the ball. The fences surrounding the courts look like Greensburg after the EF-5 tornado his on May 4, 2007. 

It won’t surprise me at all during the first day of tryouts to see many balls outside of the courts going under the fence or even through the fence at times too. The paint on the courts are starting to fade after having to deal with the harsh winter conditions as well. The courts at CiCo are just laughable.

While the city hasn’t done any service to the tennis community, there are some groups and organizations that are helping to give the people what they deserve. The  brand-new Genesis Health Club will be on the hilltop of 2704 Allison Avenue and 0000 Fort Riley Blvd. The multi-million dollar health club will be one of the largest and most luxurious in the region, including a six-lane indoor pool, three-lane running track, three exercise studios, full basketball court, childcare, cardio, weights, personal training, smoothie bar, premium locker rooms with built-in locks, granite countertops, full towel service and three indoor tennis courts with a grand slam viewing lounge and bar. Even though they gave everybody, (including myself), false hope of when it was expected to open in February of 2019, the facility is almost finished, and will be opening in the next few weeks or so.

There have been other contributions that have been provided to the facility situation, with the high school making four courts at the East Campus for the Boys J.V. team to use during the construction at West Campus, which will also include four courts. K-State tennis also gave their formally used nets to put on the City Park courts, which was also in need at the time as well. 

While we’re on the subject about K-State tennis, I’ve been asked at times, “Why can’t you guys just use the K-State courts for tournaments and matches?” Those courts are reserved for the K-State only, so we would have to get permission to host a few girls tennis tournaments in the fall. The boys won’t be able to play there in the spring with K-State having matches against other D1 foes in their facility. Before their facility was updated, they were in the same position we were, being forced to play matches in Wamego.

The city had some possible plans in the past for the courts at CiCo Park, making a 8-12 court facility for not only the MHS Tennis team, but also the people who play tennis for a hobby or activity. The boys tennis team can host more tournaments or meets, consisting of more relevant programs rather than playing against Highland Park, Marysville and Junction City at City Park every year. The addition of that facility can also bring in not only more recruits for the tennis team in the next upcoming years, but also bring more people around the community to play as well. The only problem is that if it even happens, the construction would take place in 2025.

The point is to give credit to the people who have been successful at the game in the past at Manhattan. Despite how bad our facility situation has been, the tennis teams have been very successful in the last few years. The girls team finished third in State this season, and the boys team has won five consecutive Centennial League titles, as well as finishing in the top five in state in back-to-back years. 

So how is this possible? Well, it’s a testament to the kids, their parents, the coaches and the people who have helped them learn the game and compete. They have to work at it on their own time and on their own dime, traveling to locations such as Topeka and Salina to not only compete, but practice with some of the best talent in the state. 

You don’t have to have the best facilities to compete. But it wouldn’t hurt to have courts where we can actually play a real match.