Tennis at LaFortune Park Becomes First Class

GTR Sports Writer

CASE FOR CASE: Michael D. Case holds the scissors as he readies to cut the ribbon at the Case Tennis Center at LaFortune Park. From left are former Tulsa Mayor Bob LaFortune, Tennis Director Melissa McCorkle, Former County Commissioner Fred Perry, Mike Case, tennis community leader Frank Ward, major contributors Debbie and John Hale, Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith and Tulsa County Park Director Richard Bales.

GTR Newspapers photo

A tennis renaissance has bloomed at LaFortune Park in Tulsa. With the completion of the Case Tennis Center, dreams have come true and created what those in the know say is the finest public tennis facility in the United States.

Eight years in creation, the tennis mecca on Hudson Street is “on par’’ with the center that bears the same name at the University of Tulsa, according to former County Commissioner Fred Perry, one of the founding fathers of the project. Perry spearheaded a drive that raised $5.5 million in public and private funds to make the project a reality.

“I had a hard time believing it would happen. The indoor courts are icing on the cake,’’ says Melissa McCorkle, director of tennis for Tulsa County Parks. “Everything is first class and it’s rare to find a public facility with indoor courts, especially in this part of the country. It took so long to raise the money that we had to take baby steps. It was a team effort, but Fred was the driving force.’’

Perry is a lifelong tennis player and served as a Tulsa County commissioner for more than six years. McCorkle and Frank Ward, head of the Tulsa Tennis Association, approached Perry about the project in 2007 and fund raising soon began.

“They said ‘Fred, you’ve played at LaFortune Park and you know how bad the courses are. And we don’t have enough of them,’’ recalles Perry. “I knew what the need was and I had Richard Bales (director of Tulsa Parks) sit in on the meeting. He agreed we would make an effort, but we were talking about a lot of money and there was no money, in the budget.’’

Not to worry. Perry, Ward, McCorkle, et al started Operation Facelift, a fund drive that would eventually raise the necessary finances. The group began calling on corporations, foundations and individuals, pleading their case and promoting the advantages to Tulsa. The private sector gave $3.5 million and another $2 million came from Vision 2025.

Perry also approached Mike Case and Associates, the apartment developers, to lend a hand.

“I knew Mike was a tennis player and what he had done at the University of Tulsa,’’ Perry said. “It occurred to me one day that maybe he would help us. I called him and went to his office. I took Melissa, Bill LaFortune and Richard Bales with me. We told Mike if he would contribute $1 million we would match with another $1 million.’’

The quid pro quo led to the facility’s dedication ceremony in September. The newest Case Tennis Center was open for business.

The overall plan called for adding the new clubhouse with three indoor courts, replacing old outdoor courts and adding 12 more. Prior to construction, Oklahoma City had 24 public courts and attracted more tournaments. Perry said the idea was to at least match the capitol city.

“We’re going after the state high school tournament, and all of Tulsa’s public and private schools play matches here. Many of them also practice here,’’ says Perry, who played high school tennis in Junction City, Kansas, placing sixth in the state meet. “

The LaFortune Park site has also become a hub for small college programs. John Brown, Northeastern State and Arkansas-Little Rock routinely play quad matches there and participation in all phases has doubled since the project began.
“In 2002, we had 12 courts and 20,000 players that year. Now we have 45,500 a year.’’ McCorkle says. “We’re always on the lookout to bring more people to Tulsa.’’

The numbers are indeed impressive. Over 350 junior players call the Case Tennis Center home, there are more 10-and-under players than any private club in Tulsa and 93 teams, and 27 recreational league teams suit up. There are also nine USPTA teaching pros on hand.

“Our main selling point is that our facility is good for the economic development of the city,” Perry says. “With better facilities we’re able to attract more tournaments. The second thing is LaFortune had to stop a lot of youth development programs in the winter because we had no indoor facilities. Now we’re able to expand and get more underserved kids into the sport.

“The third benefit of our project is public health through exercise.’’

McCorkle says future plans include organizing a wheelchair tournament and continuing the Tennis Ball in the spring, an event that has attracted famed pros such as Mats Wilander in the past.

“People from out of town and out of state rave about our club,’’ McCorkle says. “They say they’ve never seen anything like it before. They say it’s the best public facility they’ve seen. It belongs to the whole city, not just to those who play tennis.’’

Perry and McCorkle say another benefit is that people who have never played the sport before have decided to give it a try. Private clubs are in cooperation because many players who start at Case Tennis Center will eventually join a private club for the social aspect. There was no “push back’’ when the LaFortune Park group was raising funds.

“We have first class lights, playing service, fencing, everything,’’ says Perry. “This really is a dream come true.’’

Updated 11-24-2015

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