Complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony led by its namesake and more than $300,000 in renovations, the Caroline Haynes Tennis Court at John Sevier Park has now reopened for the first time since closing in spring.
Despite a heat advisory and thunderstorm warning for the area early Tuesday, pickleball players showed up around 8 a.m. and were several games deep before officials from the city of Maryville and the Maryville-Alcoa-Blount Parks and Recreation Commission convened a brief reopening event.
Obligated to take a momentary break from their games, members of the Smoky Mountain Pickleball Club gathered under shade trees near the tennis court entrance alongside community members and local leaders.
“These courts were built around 1970,” Parks and Rec Director Joe Huff told the gathering of around 50 people. “They gotten a lot of use over the years, and they’ve become an important part of the tennis world in Maryville.”
Mayor Tom Taylor agreed. “This court complex has been around a long time,” he said as he took his turn to address the crowd, quickly shifting the attention from the opening to the court’s namesake.
“We rebuilt it a few years ago and named it the Caroline Haynes court because she was instrumental not only in promoting tennis but also in helping design the courts.”
Taylor invited Haynes herself to join him in front of the gathering.
“Most of you know Caroline as the sweet lady who taught your kids and probably grandkids longer than most of us have been playing. But she’s not just a tennis player and a tennis instructor.”
Taylor held up a list highlighting Hayne’s accomplishments including top rankings, hall of fame awards, gold and silver medals and decades of combined coaching experience.
“This is a wonderful resume ... but her real legacy is that there have been hundreds, probably actually thousands of folks in our community that not only learned to play tennis well but learned to love tennis.”
Responded Taylor: “Thank you for the honor. And I’m so excited to see so many people out playing pickleball, which is really a wonderful sport. But we need to get more tennis players out.”
Moments later, Haynes cut the ribbon to the tennis section of the courts and made an inaugural serve.
‘You keep playing’
The courts used to be composed exclusively of six tennis courts. But pickleball — which is the nation’s fastest-growing sport, according to the USA Pickleball Association and a variety of major news outlets — is booming in the county.
Smoky Mountain Pickleball Club President Ole Olson said his group has been playing at the older Alcoa courts on Joule Street, but they’re elated about the new area.
“This is going to be great,” Olson said. “They’re new, they’re smooth, there are no cracks. I think this will become our favorite place to play.”
Maryville has adapted to the community’s love of the sport: The renovated courts at John Sevier park has retained four of its original six tennis courts, but it has added six pickleball courts.
The project was set to cost the city around $300,000 when it started in April.
According to Taylor, the final price tag was $327,000. Renovations included replacing fabric courts with hard courts and putting in new lighting so that players can enjoy them at night. New, tall fencing surrounds the entire area and divides the pickleball section from the tennis section.
A pickleball player asked Haynes during the ceremony if she had ever played.
“No, no,” she replied to laughter. “I’m too busy playing tennis.”
Hopes are high that, soon, others in the community will be, too. Tennis players and coaches from local schools came to show their support and to scout out a new location for their own teams.
Blount Countians of all ages are eager to enjoy the courts.
“In the summer there’s a youth interclub and they play ... against other teams in Knoxville,” Union Grove Middle School tennis and parks and rec coach LuAnne Zelasko said.
An adult tennis club plans to meet at the new courts Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but Haynes reiterated in an interview after the ceremony she hopes a new court complete with LED lights and blue and green coating will bring more young players.
“It’s like in the movie,” Haynes said. “If you build it they will come. That’s what will happen.”
Moments before, Taylor confirmed Hayne’s sentiments. “You keep playing, and we’ll keep building.”