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Tennis community eyeing potential indoor solution

Bubble could be erected around four existing courts at Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre.
(tbnewswatch file photograph)

THUNDER BAY – After being left out in the cold this winter, tennis players could be back on an indoor court as early as next year.

With loss of the protected courts at the former Confederation College fitness centre once that facility was closed and repurposed in the fall, the sport has essentially been put on hiatus in Thunder Bay this winter.

Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre president Dave McCallum said plans are being explored to build an air-supported bubble over four of the facility’s existing nine outdoor courts, a stopgap measure that would allow tennis to be played continuously throughout the year while the feasibility of a permanent indoor solution would be explored.

“We feel pretty confident if we can get approval from council that we can have it up sometime late next fall,” McCallum said. “The construction would be minimal since our courts are already here so it would be a timeline we could meet this year.”

McCallum said estimates have indicated the total cost would likely be around $1 million. Council on Thursday was asked to consider adding $20,000 in the budget towards developing a business plan for the structure.

The city’s recreation master plan, a long-term planning document, recommends the construction of a multi-purpose indoor sport facility in Chapples Park that would also include indoor tennis courts.

But that type of venue is still years away and for a sport that McCallum has said has grown significantly locally over the past five years, there is concern about that momentum stalling.

“It’s been tough,” McCallum said of the impact of not having any indoor tennis this year, adding previous indoor players ranged from youth being exposed to the sport to competitive junior players training throughout the year to adults who play the sport recreationally as a fitness activity.

“They’re really struggling with ways to stay active and trying to find different activities. Our fear is that we don’t want to lose them in the tennis community.”

Over the past 15 years, a handful of Thunder Bay bred tennis players have gone on to pursue careers playing collegiately in the United States.

Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre club pro Jamie Grieve said local juniors who now might go all winter without stepping onto a court are competing against other players from across the province who train up to five hours a day every day.

“Once the spring comes around they’re going to be extremely rusty,” Grieve said, adding a top local junior recently moved to Southern Ontario to train.

“They’re going to notice having absolutely no improvements this winter and probably stepping back a few steps as well. It’s a shame.”

In addition to being able to play in the winter, providing weather protection to four courts guarantees against inclement weather the rest of the year.

“It would take a lot of work to get to that level only playing four months out of the year,” Grieve said. “Even now, if we have a bad May it’s tough. If we have a bad September it’s tough. You’re only looking at three really good months of tennis in the summer.”