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Tennis Clock Turned Back in Woodstock

The Woodstock, Vermont region has a long-standing tennis tradition. As early as 1884 Frederick Billings and his children were looking for a place to set up a lawn tennis court on their Mount Tom property. Even before the Country Club started building a clay court in 1901, the Woodstock Inn had a court. By 1906 a high school tournament was being held at the Vail Field court. Initially tennis was played only by a limited few who could afford it. As it gained in popularity it became more accessible. Therefore through the 20th century both its exposure and its appeal spread. The first tennis teams at Woodstock Union High School were in the 1970's and the school has won numerous state championships. The girls have earned 7 state titles and the boys 6 in less than 30 years of play. Instructional tennis has been available to children from the area through camps sponsored both by the Recreation Center and the Health and Fitness Center.

On June 22, 2001 the Woodstock Historical Society and the Woodstock Health and Fitness Center presented Turn-Back-The-Clock-Tennis, a celebration through the years of the of the sport, its history, and the people whose participation and support have made tennis a strong tradition in the Woodstock community.

Despite a threatening sky about 75 people were in attendance for the Turn-back-The-Clock Tennis. Five panelists, whose tennis history ranges from 10 to 70 years, spoke about their memories of (and love for) the game. Afterwards a mixed doubles exhibition was held complete with white balls, wooden racquets, long skirts for the women, and long pants and ties for the men.

The evening began with the panelists answering questions such as "When did you start playing tennis and why?" Three members of the panel commented that their impetus came from their families as their parents were avid players. Anne Bridges noted that tennis was inevitable for her - her parents met as young children playing in a sandbox while their parents played tennis. With a background like that, how could she not be an avid player? On the other hand, Janice Clunan took up the game in Massachusetts about ten years ago - for herself. With her children in school, it was a good time for her to do so and she has played regularly ever since.

When the panel was asked about how the game has changed, several players observed that the exposure that tennis now receives is far greater than when they were younger. While the panelists were talking about the change in the color of tennis balls from white to yellow, Orton Hicks pulled out a ball a foot in diameter and playfully tossed it among the panel.

A difficult question for all the speakers concerned their favorite memory of tennis because they all had so many fond remembrances. David Miles talked about a recreational match that he had lost to a close friend that he used to beat regularly because it meant a new beginning for both of them and that it suggested that many close matches would follow. Orton Hicks talked of being two points away from the championship in a National Father-Son Tournament. And Neal McNealus spoke for all of them when he said that perhaps the most recent good set, game, point, or even stroke was possibly the best memory of all because it always kept the players coming back for more.

Immediately following the panel discussion umpire Tom Hopewell introduced players for a ‘1910 Mixed Doubles Match’ and called for the match to begin. The match featured Woodstock residents (and tennis buffs) Emma Schmell and John Brand versus Anne Bridges and David Miles. Eric Miles and Tim Barrett were ball boys for the match – a nice touch. The players had some difficulty adapting their games to the old equipment and to the older style of play (not to mention the difficulty the women had in chasing down drop shots and lobs in their long dresses). The common style of play featured a more erect stance with wide, sweeping shots and no two-handed strokes - something the four players had to adapt to in varying degrees. Mrs. Schmell and Mr. Brand, as the umpire referred to them using the correct titles for the day, won the first three games, before Mrs. Bridges and Mr. Miles won the next three. With the rain clouds looming umpire Hopewell called for an abbreviated end to the match!


Turn Clock

Anne Bridges, Dave Miles, John Brand and Emma Schmell (left to right).