New Courts May Return Westover to Former Glory
Shaquan Hawkins knows all about Arthur Ashe and what the native of Richmond accomplished during his illustrious tennis career.
That included his shocking upset of Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975 and being ranked No. 1 in the world at one point.
“I’m going to Wimbledon one day,” said Hawkins, after a workout on one of the new 36-foot courts for beginners at Westover Hills Playground, which is located just off the grounds of the Westover Hills Elementary School on the South Side of Richmond.
If Hawkins continues to improve and works hard at his game, there’s no limit as to how good he can be. Wimbledon, which is the pinnacle of tennis, may not be out of his reach, just as it wasn’t for Ashe, who grew up on the city’s North Side.
“It’s fun,” said Hawkins. “I play a lot of other sports and it’s way different. In tennis, you travel more places.”
Hawkins, 10, was one of four youngsters practicing recently on the courts that were completed in May as part of a project by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to improve what used to be one of Richmond’s hot spots to play.
“It was tremendous tennis,” said Harvey Graves, who spent a lot of time playing there in the 1980s and ‘90s. “In fact, you had to be on the court every day no later than 4 o’clock or you couldn’t get a court until after 9 o’clock that night.
“We also had a tennis program over there as well. This guy, Ben Orcutt, ran a tennis ladder, and you had to work your way up the ladder. We had a list on the side of the building every day for who played who to get to the top of the ladder.”
In addition to hosting several major tournaments each year, Westover Hills featured top players like Richard Eramian, John Lanier, Dennis Collins, Larry Jones and William Lightfoot. “A lot of talent came through there,” said Graves.
“I miss those days. The tennis was terrific. Good competition. People played, I guess, until the wee hours of the morning most days. There was a Safeway right out front there, and we’d go get a little orange juice and food and come right back to the courts.”
But those courts fell into disrepair and weeds covered six of them before the transformation. The four QuickStart courts, which are mainly for kids 8-and-under or those who are just starting to learn about the game, were built where the former courts were located.
The courts are smaller, as are the racquets, and the balls don’t bounce as high, making it easier to get back over the lower nets.
“We’ve been trying, along with the Richmond Tennis Association, for almost four years to get a tennis complex in the city that has the QuickStart courts,” said Victor Rizzi, citywide tennis coordinator for the Parks and Rec Department.
The QuickStart courts are the only ones like that in the city, Rizzi said. Three other regulation-size courts were resurfaced and painted with blended lines (making them look 60 feet long) so that kids 10-and-under and adults can play at that distance.
Four of the original 10 courts remain at the playground to be used by adults.
“We were able to accomplish this through part of the $25,000 grant the city received for being named the third-best tennis town in the country” in an Internet vote conducted by the United States Tennis Association in 2010, Rizzi said.
The Department of Parks and Recreation has committed to putting blended lines on new or refurbished courts in the city.
“This is part of the city’s 10-year plan to repair and replace the courts [at Westover],” said Joe Grover, past president of the RTA. “They were all covered with weeds. We prevailed on them to put in the short courts to make this a family-friendly complex.
“Parents and little kids, eight and seven and six-years-old, can come and play on these courts any time of day. If we have a supervisor here, which is one of the things we’d really like to do, they could teach on these courts and have a really great community program.
“I’m hoping we can make that happen. We’re just starting to talk about how we might create a stronger partnership [with the city] for delivering tennis in the summer. We’d like to see RTA and Parks and Rec co-operating in that area.”
Grover said the hope is to also have blended lines installed on courts at Broad Rock, Byrd Park, Bryan Park and Battery Park.
If the enthusiasm shown by Hawkins, his cousin, Taquan Bradshaw, 12, Talik Bryant, 10, and Osmand Harris, 12, the other day is any indication, the project has the potential to be a huge success and restore Westover Hills to its former glory.