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A Few Quarters Made the Difference

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

OK, wrong story line, but looking at the gorgeous new NHS tennis facility got me thinking back on tennis in the early 1970s and a small but dedicated group that helped get things going in Nob City.

Some of you remember how tennis exploded back then. The country was just starting to embrace the fitness craze. Joggers could be seen on roads. Before that, boxers could be found on streets and back roads doing what was called, well, roadwork. Anyone else running was either on a cinder track or had an angry dog chasing them.

Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King brought tennis to new heights in 1973 with their famous Battle of the Sexes. In fact, the NHS tennis team played an away match that night because as soon as we got home we all headed to Tom Weinschenk’s house near NHS to watch Billie Jean dismantle Riggs in straight sets.

Tennis was growing, but maybe not so much here. Our team wasn’t very good and there weren’t very many adults in the community lining up to get court time.

Enter a small group of men. Banker Bob Wyne, pharmacist Dick Reilly, John Talbott Sr., my Dad Earl Timmons and a few of us high schoolers created the Hamilton County Tennis League. From there we created the Noblesville Open tennis tournament. Between the league and tournament, we got a lot of folks playing – and many of them contributed quite a bit to the growth of tennis.

Jack Hittle, a young attorney back then, was quite good and a great guy. He got more people involved. Rich Clouse was the coach at NHS and was followed by Jim Balsley – also great guys and both huge in helping this youngster learn the game. Jim Bray came along later and was a big part. Momentum was growing.

In fact it grew so much that the league attracted a big-time personality, the weather guy from an Indianapolis TV station. Everyone thought it was a huge deal that someone as big as Dave Letterman would come to Noblesville to play! If only we knew . . .

About the only problem left was the courts. Back then there were five courts between the shop wing of NHS (Ivy Tech today) and the old football field (no, not the one off Monument – and how’s that for showing my age!). Five courts was a problem because high school meets were nine matches – six singles and three doubles. So with five courts, one of the singles had to wait until the first singles match got done for an open court. Back then, kids from singles usually played doubles (the IHSAA changed the rules later so that didn’t happen). So that meant the meet couldn’t end until the sixth player got done with singles, and then played the last doubles match.

Did I mention the NHS courts didn’t have lights?

If the score of the meet was close and that match made a difference in the outcome, there were a lot of points won or lost because no one could see the ball . . . or because the car headlights – the jerry-rigged answer – got in someone’s eyes. If the meet wasn’t close, a lot of those final doubles matches were called on account of darkness.

Remember that small group from above? They decided to go to the school board and put in a push for lights. At that time, about the only lit court around was up in Tipton. It wasn’t unusual for several of us to take the quick ride up Indiana 19 to get a few sets in. That, of course, became part of the sales pitch – how in the name of Stan Smith and Rod Laver could Tipton have lights and not Noblesville?

Determined to change that, we got our ducks in a row and ever so politely went to the school board with our request. The school board ever so politely said no.

It seems that lights for a tennis court fell somewhere below textbooks and basketballs.

But one of the fledgling group – I think it was Coach Clouse – came up with the idea of putting meters on the lights – 25 cents got you 15 minutes.

Turns out that was an idea the board could get its arms around. A few months later, there were lights – and meters – on the courts. Any idea how hard it was to play a match with 17 pounds of quarters in your pockets? No? Well, the good news was that as the match wore on, you got lighter.

It was indeed a long time ago, but it’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? When NHS dedicated its new 12-court, $3.9 million facility I wonder if any of them realized it all started with a few quarters and the Battle of the Sexes?

Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Thursdays in The Times. Timmons is the chief executive officer of Sagamore News Media, the company that owns The Noblesville Times. He is also a proud Noblesville High School graduate and can be contacted at ttimmons@thetimes24-7.com