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Tennis in northern Solano County has a rich history. The sports clubs at Rancho Solano, Dover, and Green Valley in Fairfield and Browns Valley in Vacaville have been home to our tennis families for decades; their USPTA tennis directors built strong programs for all ages and levels of play to nurture and grow the sport. City programs in Fairfield, Vacaville, and Dixon offered instruction on public courts. Allan Witt Park in Fairfield hosted USTA league team play from 2007 to 2014. The Cello International Tennis Academy (CITA) has been challenging young players since 1986.
USTA adult league activities were limited to Adult (18+) and Mixed (18+) by rating and gender until 2000. Senior (50+) was offered for the first time in 2000, Super Senior (60+) in 2010, and 40+ in 2013.
Minimal USTA league offerings through the early 2000s meant that the opportunity to play organized tennis was small. That void was filled by the Solano County Tennis Association, the original SCTA, with its motto - Support Community Tennis. This group of enthusiastic volunteers built a robust organization that scheduled monthly tournaments at all the local tennis facilities and awarded Grand Prix points to participants. Their operational scope, professionalism, dedication, and involvement were exceptional. SCTA activities dominated the tennis scene in Solano County until the organization faded away in the mid-2000s as the opportunities to play USTA league tennis multiplied.
With expanded league play and motivated USPTA professionals at the clubs, tennis continued to flourish. Our players did well when challenged. The Browns Valley ladies’ 18+ 3.0 team won the USTA National Championship in 2017. The 2018 NorCal Hawks won the men’s Super-Senior 65+ 3.5 championship at the BNP Paribas Senior Cup at Indian Wells. Phil Cello brought the ATP Men’s $100,000 Challenger to Rancho Solano in Fairfield in 2015, where we met Taylor Fritz, Francis Tiafoe, and Dustin Brown. That tournament now continues annually on the courts at Solano Community College.
Then, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything changed in 2020. In-Shape management restricted access to their clubs and dropped their Tennis Director positions. Our tennis community lost three home bases and the complexion of the sport in our area changed dramatically. Only Green Valley CC had a committed USPTA pro and courts for league play.
In March 2021, USTA announced league play would return in April-May. With their no-guest policy, the In-Shape clubs were not an option to host teams. We needed another place to play. Centennial Park in Vacaville was the only public four court complex in Fairfield and Vacaville that met the USTA/NorCal requirement for a restroom available during league play. City staff expedited the process with USTA and NorCal to get the courts approved for league play before team registration closed. Since we were not organized at the time, court reservations were treated as facility rentals by the team captains. Eight teams represented Centennial Park in the league seasons ending in September; four won their league playoffs and competed in the NorCal Sectional championships. Tennis still had a heartbeat in northern Solano County.
But many players were joining out-of-area teams; our USPTA pros were limited in their ability to develop and grow the sport; court amenities were sparse; and we had to organize to negotiate with outside agencies.
In June-July of 2021, we began the process of creating a Community Tennis Association (CTA). We needed a local single voice for the sport in our area, an organization that could pull together the disparate segments of our tennis community. The first big decision was agreeing to a name. SCTA was an early favorite because of all the positive 20-year-old memories. But Solano County Tennis Association would be inappropriate as a name because Benicia and Vallejo now have active CTAs of their own. Thus, the Solano Community Tennis Association was born – the new SCTA.
The foundational pieces came together rapidly. Mission statement, incorporation, by-laws, installation of directors and officers, application for tax-exempt status, website, and agreement with the City of Vacaville for court usage.
That foundation was built by the end of 2021. In 2022, we were able to support USTA adult league tennis on the four unlighted courts at Centennial Park, occasionally using the courts at Three Oaks Park and even In-Shape when needed. But much of our energy was expended looking for courts to play on and seeking a path forward for a new tennis home facility.
We initiated communications with City of Dixon staff to grow tennis on the Hall Park courts. That remains a work in progress as those six courts are scheduled for renovation soon, with some forecast to be dedicated to pickleball.
We provided input to City of Fairfield staff when the eight lighted tennis courts at Allan Witt Park were scheduled for renovation in the summer of 2022. Unfortunately, only three courts remained configured for tennis after the renovation. We encouraged the Fairfield tennis community to participate in the development of the concept plan for the proposed Matt Garcia Park at One Lake, to express the need for tennis courts at that site. That could be a future tennis home for the Fairfield tennis community.
In Vacaville, we knew that a proposed Centennial Park Master Plan (CPMP) had been in development since 2017. We spoke regularly with City staff and the Park Planner, stating our need for a tennis home base and requesting that the four tennis courts in the new plan be sited in a location that would allow future expansion to 8-12 courts as funding allowed.
The Vacaville pickleball community reached out to us, suggesting that the two communities align to speak as one voice going forward. Each community saw a need for a home base for its sport, more courts in a single location rather than dispersed around the city on neighborhood parks. That collaboration eventually led to a request by the Pickleball community to come under the SCTA organizational umbrella, as a separate division as allowed by our by-laws.
The draft CPMP was briefed to the public in December 2022, showing the existing four tennis courts going away and four new lighted courts sited in a location that would not permit future expansion. That would preclude the 265-acre park from becoming the tennis home base for the Vacaville tennis world going forward.
Then, two encouraging signs appeared at the end of December.
The City of Vacaville announced that Menard Energy had proposed an energy storage battery facility project in the North Village area that would include a 6-acre community recreation park as a public amenity. An 8-court tennis complex was shown as part of that amenity in the initial concept plan.
And it was announced that the Rothbard family had sold In-Shape to California Family Fitness, which is owned by Perpetual Capital Partners. Is there a chance that new ownership would be willing to sell the three local In-Shape clubs with tennis courts or, at least, adopt more tennis-friendly policies?
So, as 2022 came to a close, there still were possible paths forward. But the future remained uncertain. In-Shape may once again embrace tennis or sell its clubs to someone who will. Our new tennis home base is not likely to happen on current city courts but may emerge as a tennis complex in proposed new parks in Vacaville and Fairfield. In the meantime, how do we keep alive the feeling of family within our community? Can we do more, like support youth activities? The challenge is there. We will take it one day at a time and base every decision on our Mission Statement – To promote and develop the growth of tennis in the northern Solano County area.
The SCTA membership, at our Annual Membership Meeting (AMM) on January 21, 2023, approved an amendment to our by-laws that allows the establishment of a Pickleball Division within the SCTA structure. This integration will allow the Vacaville tennis and pickleball communities to speak with one voice, particularly in the potentially conflicting area of facility usage and planning.
To reflect the larger mission, the SCTA filed a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) statement to do business as (dba) the Northern Solano County Racquet Association (NSCRA). To allow the new division to reflect its support for pickleball, we also filed a FBN statement to dba Vacaville Pickleball.
The first opportunity for coordination came shortly thereafter, when the tennis community agreed to the permanent transformation of two tennis courts at North Orchard Park to six pickleball courts in exchange for the pickleball community agreeing to no pickleball courts in the plan for Centennial Park. This resulted in six new lighted tennis courts in the CPMP that was approved by the Vacaville Parks and Recreation Commission on August 2, 2023.
The SCTA remained involved as the tennis stakeholder in the City of Fairfield’s planning for future parks. The initial concept design for the new Matt Garcia Park showed five lighted tennis courts and six pickleball courts. Following virtual public outreach sessions in March, the design that was briefed to the City Council at its Study Session on July 11, 2023, included eight lighted tennis courts and six pickleball courts.
In March, the City of Fairfield also announced its intention to create a new Parks, Recreation, and Open Space Master Plan and invited the SCTA to participate as tennis stakeholder. We were involved in the initial meeting in March and encouraged Fairfield member participation in the July Community Workshop and the August survey.
In June, the SCTA Board of Directors held an abbreviated Management Retreat to build a common vision, develop a Strategic Plan to center our focus, and discuss Board functioning. One goal espoused in that Strategic Plan was to find a way to say YES to every captain who requested to register an SCTA-sponsored team.
With a usage agreement that made the four unlighted courts at Centennial Park in Vacaville our home base, that commitment to the captains was challenged when 11-13 teams were scheduled to play USTA league matches during the same time period. It worked because of the flexibility of the City, the resiliency of our captains, and the ingenuity of our Adult League Coordinator, Tim Tieu.
The promise of a new tennis center at the proposed North Village Sports Complex in Vacaville took a hit when the residents of that area became concerned about the safety of a large lithium battery complex in their neighborhood. Their opposition at a community outreach meeting in September was undeniable and well organized.
The SCTA recognizes that the playing conditions are austere on the tennis courts at Centennial Park. It is difficult to argue for improvements when the new CPMP shows the current courts going away. However, we recognize that plan implementation is most likely at least 7 years away and those courts will be our home until then. In June, the Board agreed to offer a set of five player benches to the City, an MOU between the City and the SCTA was signed and the benches ordered in August, and the benches were installed in October. This was all made possible by the generosity of 34 donors in our first fundraising effort.
Your SCTA was a bronze-level sponsor, for the first time, of the Fairfield Pro Challenger at Solano College in October. It was support for a great tennis event but also an opportunity to offer the sponsor amenities – daily VIP access to tournament play, the Pro-Am experience, and the Player Party – to our members and team captains.
Your Board recognized that our Groove.cm-based website offers very little flexibility in the membership arena. A major website upgrade was commissioned in September to improve the member’s experience on the website – everything from the registration process for joining and renewing to the Members Portal where we intend share information in a password protected environment. The initial phase – the membership registration process – was targeted to be completed by the end of October, in time for our 2024 membership drive starting in November.
As 2023 comes to a close, we recognize that our key limitations remain the lack of a centralized tennis court complex and a shortage of motivated volunteers. Despite those challenges, we have been active in the local municipalities’ park planning processes to ensure future tennis courts. And, we have found a way to say YES to every captain who has asked to register an SCTA-sponsored team. We upgraded the tennis court conditions at Centennial Park by adding the player benches and lent our support to the premier tennis event in Solano County – the Fairfield Pro Challenger. Fulfilling the promise of our mission statement remains an ongoing conversation – a journey – rather than a defined destination.