by Paige Darden
Past President of the Billings Tennis Association
Tennis is thriving in Billings, Montana. Last year, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) named Montana one of the fastest growing states for tennis. USTA-Montana attributed that growth largely to the increased participation numbers they are seeing here in Yellowstone County.
From 6 year olds on up, beginners to advanced, at every age and level in between, the Billings tennis community is diverse, fun and welcoming. Tennis is a sport that can be played throughout a lifetime. “Every day I have parents come in to sign their kids up for lessons, and then decide that they want to pick up the sport again, too,” said Becky King, who manages the Elks Tennis Center (ETC). “We love it when we see parents and their children learning and playing together.”
The Elks Tennis Center, with support from the Billings Tennis Association (BTA), provides leagues, lessons, socials, and tournaments year-round for every level of play. The Center is centrally located on Lewis Avenue between 8th Avenue and 13th Avenue, and has four state-of-the-art, cushion-surfaced courts. It’s open 7 days a week and employs three United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA)-certified teaching professionals to provide private and group lessons, doubles clinics, cardio classes and more. The Elks also sells clothes, shoes and equipment, including the latest racquets and clothing lines being used on the professional tour. There are youth lessons and clinics for all levels of play every day after school and even a class for home-schooled students during the day. Membership for an individual is less than $100 a month for unlimited court time. Non-members can participate in lessons and some social events without having a membership.
In the summer, lessons are available through the Billings Parks and Recreation on our outdoor public courts. There are nearly 30 public outdoors courts in Billings, with the most popular being Pioneer Park, Rose Park, Central, North Park and Castle Rock. The courts at Castle Rock and the Upper Pioneer Park courts were recently rebuilt and both are ADA accessible, and have one court that includes the USTA 10 and Under lines designed to help younger players learn on a smaller court.
Three years ago, the Billings Tennis Association, a non-profit organization that works to implement United States Tennis Association programming (leagues, tournaments, and lessons) in Billings, paid to have lights installed on the new Upper Pioneer Courts. The lighted courts are heavily used from April through October until 10 p.m. every night the weather permits. If the temperature outside is close to or above 50 degrees, it is comfortable to play outside. The lights are free to turn on and will automatically go off at 10 p.m. Night tennis has become a popular summer past-time for the more than 100 Billings’ teenagers who play high school tennis at Senior, West, Skyview and Central. On any given summer night, the courts are filled with teenagers continuing on the rivalry from the Spring school tennis season.
This Spring, the Elks and the Billings Tennis Association are working together to introduce a new adult social mixed doubles league. The league will run for six weeks from March 23rd to April 29th. Matches will be Friday night, Saturday or Sunday afternoons, with teams of six players competing against teams of their same level. The league rules will ensure players are partnered with teammates and opponents of similar ratings to ensure competitive, fun matches. Any adults interested in joining should contact the Elks to get signed up.
Billings plays host to several tennis tournaments for juniors and adults throughout the year, and many players from here travel to Bozeman, Great Falls, Missoula, Boise, Denver, Salt Lake and Las Vegas to compete. For a list of all junior and adult tournaments visit http://www.billingstennis.org or www.facebook.com/billingstennis.
The Billings tennis community welcomes new players. Scholarships for lessons are available via the Billings Tennis Association as part of the USTA’s commitment to ensure that tennis is accessible and affordable to all potential players. To get involved, stop by the Elks to check on upcoming events or sign up for lessons. Or, one of the best ways to stay up on all tennis activities is to sign up for the Billings Tennis Association newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org or like the BTA facebook page and the Elks Tennis Center facebook page.