Growing the Sport in Hinsdale Illinois

Case Study: Hinsdale, Illinois

MARCH 19, 2010

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hinsdale challenge

Growing the Sport of Platform Tennis 

Over about a decade, a tiny village (population 18,000), has seen participation in platform tennis increase from 100 to nearly 1,000 players. This phenomenon makes Hinsdale an interesting case study.

Paddle was first played in Hinsdale during the 1970s at a private golf club. In the late 1980s, a generous donation brought two courts to a public park.  About a year later, the first group of ten men formed a team to compete in a league that spanned Chicago and the city’s north suburbs. A few more men’s teams were added through the 1990s.

Four Elements in Hinsdale’s Success

1 * Sustained pattern to coach dozens of beginners each season created a big impact over a decade
2 * Joint public / private investment expanded public courts without impairing growth at private clubs
3 * Volunteers maintained public facilities and took ownership of all facets of its operations
4 * Clinics for returning players were developed by Mary Doten and run by PPTA-certified teaching pros

Element 1 * Coaching Beginners

Avid supporters of platform tennis in Hinsdale -- players like Mary Doten, Bill O’Brien, and Charlie Usher -- established a pattern to bring a few dozen beginners out to the paddle courts each September to introduce them to the game. Throughout the season, new players practiced on Sunday nights and received coaching from Bill and others. Over the course of a decade, these volunteer efforts have brought hundreds of players into the sport.

All of these successes, however, created problems in Hinsdale. Two public courts could not support the community as numbers increased beyond 200 players. Court time had to be severely rationed while a group organized to petition the village government to add courts.

Element 2 * Public / Private Investment

Efforts by several players to participate in parks planning had created useful dialogue, but funding for new courts and a suitable warming hut had stalled for years. The way to get past a political logjam turned out to be joint public / private investment.

Over a six-month period in 2004, the project kicked into high gear. A local architect (not yet a paddle player) was asked by the newly formed association to lead a pro bono design effort. Another key supporter of the project, the Chair of the Village Parks Commission, developed a plan to reward over 90 private donors with lifetime memberships for their contributions totalling $180,000 to the project.

Votes at three levels of Village government succeeded in large part because players filled meeting rooms, speaking with passion about the sport and sharing details about its growth.

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Element 3 * Building and Refining Programs

Hinsdale’s story, however, does not end in 2004 with the construction of four new public courts.  Over his years of playing, President of the Hinsdale Platform Tennis Association Bill O’Brien had come to understand that new facilities do not succeed without great programs.  The association focused on creating unique programs, aimed at increasing enthusiasm at all levels of play for men, women, and juniors. A few of the noteworthy efforts are:

* Red-zone tournaments, where hitting  a target ends a point, are played over Thanksgiving weekend and earnmoney for the Common Hope Charity in Guatemala.

* An end-of-season tournament where teams are organized by levels, but partners are drawn from a mix of levels. The result is a draw where any team might win.

* A blog,, keeps this fast-growing community up-to-date about programs and events.

Element 4 * PPTA Pros Raise the Level of Play 

Annual clinics, organized and led by Mary Doten and many outstanding PPTA-certified pros, get each season off to an exciting start for returning players.  Hinsdale players have enjoyed the opportunity to learn from outstanding teachers, including Peter Berka,  Sally Cottingham, Chris Gambino, Hank Irvine, Susie Keane, Mike Marino, John Milbank, Ray J Murphy, David Ohlmuller, Nate Parsons, Mike Rahaley, and Todd Ward.

Continued Progress during the 2009/10 Season

Four new courts and a warming hut were built at a tennis and swimming facility, the Salt Creek Club, this season. A multitude of new programs were created there under the capable direction of PPTA Pro Paul Garvin. With all of the enthusiasm it may not be long before yet another platform tennis court germinates in Hinsdale.

For the first time ever, Hinsdale hosted APTA national ranking tournaments, called the Hinsdale Challenge.  The men’s draw took place in December and women’s draw in February to the delight of hundreds of onlookers.

Hinsdale players remain grateful for support from the Chicago League and the APTA through an exciting period of growth.

Update January 2011:

The Village of Hinsdale has reached an agreement with the HPTA to add two courts, bringing the number in Hinsdale parks to 8. Fundraising will be completed by May and construction by Septembert.

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