While the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on most team sports in 2020, at least one recreational sport saw a significant increase in participation.
The United States Tennis Association reported a 22 percent increase in participation last year. About 21.64 million people said they played tennis in 2020, according to data released last week from the Physical Activity Council’s participation report on more than 120 sports and activities nationwide.
Nearly 3 million new players picked up a racket last year, up 44 percent from 2019. The 3.82 million Americans who returned to tennis saw a 40 percent increase from those who returned in 2019. The Tennis Industry Association also reported 40 percent. increase in the sales of rackets in the entry-level category.
“This is one of the sports that everyone said could benefit from the closure,” said Kendal Hammel, lead pro at Tipton Lakes Athletic Club and head tennis coach for boys and girls at Columbus North High School. “It’s one of the safer sports to go out and hit the ball around.”
While national numbers have skyrocketed, Columbus has made more modest gains. Mike Burt, director of tennis at Columbus Parks and Recreation and director of racket sports at TLAC, said the club saw an increase in tennis revenues of about 5 percent last year.
Burt said TLAC had about 200 children in its junior program, a slight increase from 2019.
“They’re trying to be safe,” Burt said. ‘We’ve got new people, but the people trying to stay safe didn’t show up. We are now starting to get more. But it is more in juniors and children vs. adults. “
Hammel thinks the pandemic caused a few players from his high school boys team to skip the fall season.
“I know we’ve lost some people because of the COVID thing, and we even have a handful of kids who haven’t played tennis at all,” Hammel said. “I had a handful of players on the boys tennis team last fall who didn’t play until the season started, and I see exactly the same with the girls.”
Hammel said he saw an increase in the number of players coming from out of town. Most of these came from Bloomington when the Indiana University facility closed for a period last year.
“We’ve gotten some new people, and we’ve seen more people from outside of Columbus,” Hammel said. “Our clinics have grown. But to say we’ve seen a lot of new people come out, I’d say I didn’t notice. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to people who played outside or came to the club. “
Last year’s city tournament has been canceled. Although they were delayed by two weeks, last summer the city gave tennis lessons at Donner Park and TLAC for all ages except 4- and 5-year-olds.
Last summer, instructors put up to four people on a job at a time. Now they allow six per court, which measure 78 feet by 36 feet.
“I believe it is also safe to play outside, and with the space and square footage our building has,” said Burt. “If you are between baseline and baseline, you are 23 meters apart.”
Burt said that while the numbers at the club and in the clinics may not have shown major increases, it doesn’t mean that people didn’t play recreationally. Along with golf, tennis is one of the most popular sports where players can keep an ideal social distance.
“I had never seen so many people play the Donner and Lincoln (Park) courts,” said Burt. “It wasn’t a supervised game. It was more public. That’s why it’s a fun sport for all ages and you don’t need many people to play. You only need one other person. “
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