Chris Howard of Prescott, Arizona has been in the game for more than forty years, helping spread the love by teaching, playing and even writing about the sport for much of that time. Howard started his journey back as a pre-teen in Ohio and ended up in Arizona in 1976, taking a couple of teaching gigs in Phoenix for awhile before ultimately ending up in the Northern Arizona city of Prescott in 1985.
Howard's been in the small Northern Arizona city ever since, and it's been there where he has made his biggest mark in tennis, helping get the Prescott Racquet Club built, as well as being a strong grassroots activist and exectuive board member for the Prescott Area Tennis Association, as well as helping grow the game through the USPTA teaching organization.
However, the thing Howard might most be known for is serving as Prescott's tennis voice. He has been the weekly tennis columnist the last couple of decades for the city's daily paper - the Prescott Daily Courier, writing hundreds of columns that can range from local tennis goings-on in Prescott to the pro game to tennis etiquette dos and donts.
Howard has watched his little town blossom, and remains active on all fronts in the game. He recently spoke with USTA Southwest's Jeff Sikes for this month's Active Forever Member Profile. Howard gave the USTA the scoop on how his journey with the sport began, what's kept him around the sport so long, his role as a tennis media voice, and what his hometown of Prescott is doing to grow the game.
USTASW: What got you started in tennis? Did you begin playing-at a young age?
CH: Our family moved from a small town in Ohio (Hebron-pop. 2000) to a nearby town (Newark-pop. 40,000) and at the age of 12 my older brother and I joined a Saturday morning 4-week tennis class put on by local volunteer tennis enthusiasts from the area. Looking back, I was not very good, but enjoyed the game and it didn’t take long to become a passion. Just goes to show you never know who, or how this type of love will reach out and grab you.
USTASW: How did you end up in Prescott and how long have you been there now? Are you a native Arizonan?
CH: Looking to get into tennis to a greater degree, I moved my young family to Arizona in 1976 and obtained an assistant pro’s job at the Arizona Biltmore Resort – from there to become the tennis director at the La Posada Resort and then in 1983 started teaching part-time during the summers in Prescott to get out of the heat of the Phoenix area. Started up a partnership and created and built the Prescott Racquet Club in 1985. I’ve been in Prescott since and love it.
USTASW: As a USPTA teaching pro and the tennis columnist for your hometown paper (The Prescott Daily Courier), I think you're definitely qualified to assess the tennis scene there in Prescott. Give us the lowdown on Prescott, the challenges facing the area and the good things that are happening as well.
CH: The population of Prescott in 1985 was around 16,000 people, it’s now near 45,000, not counting Prescott Valley and Chino Valley which puts the Tri-city area at close to 100,000 people. With that thought and being more of a bedroom community the tennis players here come from all over, and with high expectations of well-organized programs and coaching. We have some great pros to help facilitate those thoughts in Sterling Fetty, Allison Wood, Ron Barron, Bernie Adam, John Przybyl, Tim McClintock, Joe Borzello and others.
Unfortunately, with the Prescott Racquet Club practically out of the tennis business, it leaves a void in tennis facilities, of which the six courts at Yavapai College (which are going to be rebuilt in 2014) and 6 courts at Prescott High School are now the main public places to play. Prescott and Prescott Valley are in need (as well as Northern Arizona) of a nice 12-court tennis facility to run larger events.
We are lucky to have many subdivisions that have 1-2 and 4 tennis courts that are well taken care of with tennis committees and organized play.
USTASW: What do you think the USTA's role in smaller communities like Prescott should be?
CH: The USTA could play a major role in smaller communities in more than a support aspect with a program that would make a major difference by doing the following. During the time I’ve been in Prescott our local tennis association raised the money to build two tennis sheds/w patios to create a home for tennis pros and functions to be run from. One small building at Yavapai College and one at Prescott High School. The cost was nominal, around $5,000 per. A decent contract was put in place that made it reasonable for the pros there to run programs, keep the facilities busy, clean and kept up.
The USTA, as well as the USPTA/PTR and the other sporting organizations have the means to help put this type of program in place at the thousands of small tennis facilities around the county, employ so many pros that would be self-employed and the programs would enlist thousands of extra tennis players, helping to keep the expensive facilities vibrant and make a great difference in the sport of tennis. How many small public groups of courts can you think of that are sitting there with little to no programming?
If the USTA were to help finance, not so much the rebuilding of facilities, but a home for pros, help put fair contracts together, and let the pros run with the ball, that would make a big difference in small and large populations. Start a pilot program and the results will tell the story. It worked here in Prescott.
USTASW: What is your home city's biggest tennis concern right now?
CH: Currently we are in the middle of getting the college courts rebuilt with post-tensioned concrete, adding an additional court and that should take place during the spring/summer of 2014. We need a new racquet club to be built, as does Sedona and Flagstaff. So the answer is better facilities.
USTASW: As a former sports reporter I can relate to your stories and role in not only covering the sport for your area, but helping grow the sport through the media. What do you think about the tennis presence in the media, especially in smaller communities?
CH: Being a tennis pro is great life, you’re out on the court creating interest and enthusiasm for the game you’ve learned to love with others that are normally healthy, interesting people.
Interviewing, researching, seeking out ideas of people and players in the tennis industry and then writing a decent, readable column of what hopefully will become an additional highlight of knowledge out to the public, I’ve found very enjoyable.
We are very lucky to have our newspaper, the Prescott Daily Courier, progressive and receptive to a weekly column. It makes a difference to the bonding of players to one-another in the area, on a national, state and local level and it would behoove tennis pros to test their skills with their media outlets to do the same. It never hurts to ask, submit a column and see how it’s received. I’ve been lucky enough to be doing a weekly column for 20 years now.
USTASW: I notice in your stories that you often implore your readers to take part in their community…to get involved in organizations like Prescott Area Tennis Association. Do you get a lot of feedback on your stories and what are your tennis readers typically saying about the sport to you?
CH: The feedback is normally positive, it depends on what you’ve written – in 750 words or so you have to be pretty concise in your thoughts and approach. It’s nice when someone touches base with an idea or contact that you can run with.
Readers seem to like interviews, humor, community programs and outlets, events to attend, and over the years the gathering of weekly readers, tennis players and many who can now only follow the game, do give you enough feedback to let you calibrate what you’ve written.
USTASW: You've been in tennis instruction for over 40 years yet you look like you're still about 25 years old. We will let the sport take credit for that! How often do you get to play, though, and what do you choose to play in when you do?
CH: I still love to compete, but having three middle school kids at home keeps me at bay, their activities are our priority. With that said, I’ve really enjoyed the USTA adult, senior and tri-level teams and been lucky enough to be on teams that have gone to sectionals and some to nationals the past few years.
Being on the court almost every day of the week and having a clientele of pretty good players keeps my game decent. Some of my clients like Fay Matsumoto, Dick McGaw, Dave Tucker, Nannette Oately (U.S. Open wheelchair champion) and Jan Hasse, all really keep me on my toes.
USTASW: You've been a USTA member for about 20 years. What's been your best USTA memory?
CH: Wow, so many of them – probably my first tournament experience at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio. I was in a small district and remember being so nervous and excited to being playing against others I didn’t know at the age or 13. That excitement continues today, no matter who I’m with in the game, the greats or the locals, at Wimbledon or the worst public courts imaginable – what a neat and fun journey for all of us connected in this crazy game of tennis.
CHRIS HOWARD FILE
- Has been in game of tennis more than 40 years in various capacities
- Began teaching tennis at 15 years old
- Tennis columnist for Prescott Daily Courier for more than 20 years
- Longtime ranked adult player, with several trips to national events as a USTA league player as well
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