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Starting a Club
BY ANNE M. CONNOR
Each month, Anne Connor goes on a new fitness adventure, join her this month as she asks Eileen Coode about a new winter sport in town.
Are you a tennis addict? If so, the winter can be cruel. Slowly but surely -- or worse yet, overnight -- temperatures drop, the snow flies, and winds turn from breezy to tempestuous faster than you can say lack Frost.
If you're dedicated, you can part with a couple thousand dollars and join an indoor tennis facility, but you may find yourself jostling for court space.
But if you're a real addict -- and I mean a diehard, "I love the outdoors" type -- then we've found a sport for you, and we have Madison's Eileen and Tim Goode to thank for it.
Platform tennis, it's all you've ever wanted, only less
Have you ever played squash? Or racquetball? If so, you're going to love platform tennis. Played on a raised court that's one-third the size of a regular tennis court, platform tennis is an outdoor winter sport that's all about speed, control and strategy.
In short, it's a thinking woman's cardio workout with great people and, when it's really cold, a warm drink to wrap things up,
When Goode invited me lo experience platform tennis, I had to do some research. What was this "platform"? And how was it different from regular tennis? Why was the court, so small? And why, in the name of Pete Sampras, was there chicken wire encircling the court?
Time to look for answers
One day in late October, I drove to Pine Bluff, 10 minutes west of West Towne Mall, where I met Goode, her husband Tim, and a friend, Diane, who recently moved to Madison from New Jersey. The three walked me through the rules, which are similar to those in traditional tennis.
The game is played in doubles format -- there are no singles matches -- and this, along with the fact that servers are only allowed one serve (vs. two in traditional tennis), is made to speed up play.
The rallies are extended, with some points going 20 hits or more. Being a winter sport, all this is designed to keep the players warm and moving.
No experience? Join us anyway
The best thing about platform tennis is that anyone can enjoy it. While I've played league racquetball and have started tennis half a dozen times, I consider myself a novice in both. Goode says this gives me an advantage, but that a large number of those new to the sport have never swung a racquet (or in this case, a large paddle, made by tennis magnate Wilson Sporting Goods).
"The games are fast, but a lot of people take up platform after they've been injured in other sports," Goode says. "My husband's knees are shot from playing competitive tennis, but he's fabulous on the platform."
Goode says platform tennis started as a country club sport by golfers who wanted to play tennis in the winter. "It began out East and is growing in the Midwest, especially in Ohio and Illinois."
Rules of the game
Since the sport's played in cold weather, players use a solid ball that "gets a bit wily" in the heat. Following Goode's advice, I showed up for my lesson in three layers: A shirt, a polar fleece sweatshirt, and a light jacket. Even when temperatures are low, it's common to find players pulling off layer after layer until they get down to their regular tennis garb, Goode says.
For our lesson, Goode started me on the volley and placed me at the net. After five minutes of nonstop hitting, I exclaimed, "I haven't moved my feet, and yet I can't breathe!" Coode laughed.
"You hit a lot of balls in platform tennis," she explained. "We figure you hit four to five times more balls in the same amount of time as you do in traditional tennis."' We moved on to ground strokes, which are similar to those in tennis, except that if you try to muscle the ball (remember, the court is one-third the size of a regular playing surface) you'll find yourself frustrated.
"It's about restraint, not power," Goode explained after 1 hit my fifth consecutive ball out of the court. I took a deep breath and settled into things. When I slowed down, amazingly, the ball fell into play. But it's different from tennis, too ... About that chicken wire. The biggest difference between platform tennis and regular tennis is that you can use walls, or the "screen," to keep the ball in play. (It's actually tightly strung chicken wire, reaching 12' in the air). This is where the sport most resembles racquetball, as you can play off the back screen, off the side screen, or, if you're really good, off a combination of both screens.
Anne Connor: Tell me about the genesis of platform tennis in Madison.
Eiieen Goode: I relocated to Madison five years ago from Colorado, a state where platform tennis is a fringe sport at best. Still, there were enough people in Boulder who had discovered the sport, so we had a nice little scene.
We were moving to Madison for work and family, and we had heard the Midwest was the heart of platform tennis country. Get out my paddle and start swinging, right? [Laughs.] It turns out platform tennis is huge in Chicago and
growing in Milwaukee, but it was virtually non-existent in Madison.AC: So you started your own racket club,
EG: [Rolls her eyes.] Dm, yeah. The truth is, I can't seem to get through a winter without platform tennis! I'm an addict. For tennis players, and everyone from golfers to squash players too, I think platform tennis is the most fun, best-
designed racket sport in the world.
AC: Did you used to p!ay traditional tennis?
EG: Actually, I still do, and the platform season helps my game immensely. I'm originally from Southern California and when I. went to college, i walked onto the tennis team at Chico State. I started playing when ! was about 12, which is late for kids in California. Most kids get their first racquet when they're 7 or 8.
After college, I taught for a nuinber of years until 1 had an injury and had to retire, at the ripe old age of 29!
EG: Ouch is right. 1 had to rethink everything. I took a job in sales and eventually landed a job with Wilson. It took a while, but here I am!
AC: And somewhere along the line, you took up piatform tennis.
EG; We discovered it while in Boulder. I'm currently a national platform tennis tournament player and a former Wisconsin state closed champion. I also compete in women's National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) tennis.
AC: Were you discouraged by the lack of piatform opportunities when you moved to Madison?
EG: I sulked for a year, then decided the situation was intolerable. Thus began my odyssey to bring platform tennis to Madison ... so I could play it! [Laughs.]
Little did I know of the challenges that awaited me in starting a platform tennis club, on my own, with no other players to help me out except my husband and business partner Tim Goode. It's an adventure that has been three years in the making.
AC: Why did it take so long?
EG; It was really a zoning issue. I tried to talk various municipalities in the area into sponsoring a few courts. Budget considerations, lack of knowledge of the game, land use issues, and long decision timelines made me realize that this was going nowhere. I lost an entire year. Then I decided to buy my own land.
The search for a good location consumed my efforts. Madison's tight zoning laws for nighttime lighted sport facilities made this a daunting task, and in the end that went nowhere as well. Two years, gone!
AC; Were did you go from there?
EG: Finally, 1 found a leased location in Pine Bluff, at the end of Mineral Point Road. It's ideal. It's 10 minutes west of West Towne Mail and there's a bar, The Red Mouse Club, which is a sports bar owned by long-time residents Kym and Slieryl Kalscheur. They're great.
It's perfect because she bar already has a lighted softball field and lighted volleyball. It was important that no residences were immediately adjacent to the bar so that we could play at night. [After all the trouble we had in Dane County], our application with the Town of Cross Plains sailed through with no objections.
AC: That must feel great.
EG: [Laughs.] I'm happy to report that Madison Platform Tennis Club (MPTC) is now a reality. We assembled our first court and opened our doors in December 2006. We play matches and host several open houses a year so people can see what it's all about! I'm certain that it will catch on.
AC; You have one court now. Do you plan to expand?
EG; You know, one court is great for a dub. If we want to host tournaments, we'll need at least two. Chicago, the largest platform tennis hub in the nation, has 8,000 players and they have platform courts everywhere: at country dubs, in public parks, you name it.
AC: What's so great about platform tennis?
EG: Platform tennis can be played in cold temperatures or warm, dry conditions or snow. Even rain. Our long Wisconsin winters make this particularly appealing.
AC: We haven't had a lot of snow in recent years. Is this a good sport for athletes who still want to be outdoors?
EG; It's the perfect solution for a reliable, fun outdoor workout. It doesn't require snow or sub freezing temps, but can work well within (hose conditions. If you're looking for a colder weather, fun activity that combines the outdoors with a ball and racket, this sport is for you.
AC: Name a memorable game when weather was your fee, not your friend.
EG: Last year, we played a match where the wind chill had to be 15-below. We were bundled up in layers, hats and gloves. We lasted 45 minutes and we felt like we were champions! Afterward, we walked to the Red Mouse Club and had a nice, warm drink. I should add that it's very social. We are a group that likes to work hard and play hard. That's the nice thing about playing doubles. It's a very social game.
AC: Tell me about the club.
EG; The MPTC is a private dub that offers reasonable membership dues [$300 for individuals, $450 for families]. We're pushing to get some youth involved and bring them up through the sport. There are lots of opportunities, whether you want to be competitive or just hit the ball around. The sport is ideal for all ages, juniors and seniors alike.
AC: Does anyone offer lessons?
EG: Tim and ]. leach lessons and offer leagues and tournament play for those interested. We also host open houses for people who want to find out more about the sport. Backers and balls are provided at the open houses, so there's no financialcommitment before you commit [to the game], and even then, the sport is really reasonable.
AC: Well,! had a ball. No pun intended! How can people find out more?
EG: They should check out our Web site at www.madpaddle.com. We list contact info and dates for our open houses. We're building a good membership and should have a fabulous year. I just wish everyone knew how fun it is, and what a great workout you'll have!