By Valerie Rice - ONN
Henryetta is well known for the fine tennis teams they have produced throughout the years. With much work in refurbishing the old tennis court into a brand new facility through their Main Street Tennis Court Project, the citizens of Henryetta plan to keep it that way. An official dedication ceremony was held Saturday as a large crowd came out as well as the sunshine that made a perfect day for the occasion. It was an eventful experience for all those involved in the project.
Stan Swyden welcomed everyone and said as a part of the exciting day they wanted to recognize specific components that helped accomplish all that has been done.
Swyden gave special recognition to the Lions Club, “They have done so much for the tennis program. They immediately picked up the summer program after Dr. Carlton Smith’s passing.” Dr. Smith who died in 1982, supported the entire tennis program for over 30 years, both financially and as an active participant. Smith was inducted into the Oklahoma Tennis Hall of Fame as well as named Henryettan of the Year by his community.
Janice Spurlock and Billie Been spoke on behalf of the Henryetta Lions Club. They thanked all the visionaries who began the program.
In thanking the coaches and assistants Been said, “They truly understand how this tennis program builds more than athletes, it builds our leaders of tomorrow. We are extremely proud to be a part of this program.”
Several was recognized who worked on the project; Mark Milligan, Johnny Trusdale, Stan Swyden, Mike Kennedy, and James and Connie McCullah. “Without them, this surely would not have been possible,” said Swyden.
Mark Johnson was recognized as being the originator and spearheaded the project. He is a 1979 HHS Graduate, two-time state champion, nationally ranked through his jrs’ career, Southwest conference Champion at Arkansas in college, Big 8 Champion at OSU and NCAA Div. 1 All-American and 20-year retired women’s coach University of Oklahoma where he won multiple coaches award’s.
Mark Johnson took the podium to explain the 3-year project to attendees. He said, in February 2015 the project was approved by City Council. The two adjoining lots were donated to the city and the next four months were spent preparing the site for the court builders. The old fencing and many trees were removed and a major cleanup was needed on the lot behind the backboard. This was necessary to protect the new courts, make room for future expansion, and most importantly to make the facility safer for Henryetta kids.
“We want to thank Tristan Demmitt, Graham City Manager, Arley and his staff for their help,” said Johnson.
Sign structures were built to hold 20 advertising signs that now generate a little over $5000 a year in income. 100% of the sign income will be used to support the summer tennis program.
“We want to thank American Exchange Bank for paying for the construction of the sign structure, at a cost of $4433. Kole Sutton and Midwest Fence did an outstanding job building it and HTA wants to say thank you to them and special thanks to Mr. Ron McAfee for his ideas and guidance on the design,” said Johnson.
The committee hired one of the top court builders recognized in the United States for over 25 years, Australian Courtworks, who built four new post tension concrete courts. State-of-the-art technology was used at every step.
“Paul Lockwood, an Oklahoma tennis Hall of Famer and former men’s tennis coach at OU, said recently he thought these were the best courts in the state,” said Johnson.
New black vinyl fencing was added to frame in the new facility. With the addition of new lights, Henryetta kids now have a visible, safe location to socialize with their friends and play tennis at night.
“HTA would like to say thank you to Henryettan Mike Vail who did an outstanding job installing the new lights,” said Johnson.
There were many more highlights to mention such as the 36’ x 12’ backboard built by contractor Danny Taylor and crew, a new sidewalk and drain was added behind the south fence, contracted by David Wilhite to protect the court surface and keep water off the courts and the final touches of phase 1 adding a windscreen, painting the bleachers, and adding court benches and signs.
A little over a quarter of a million dollars has been done in renovations. Donations came in to HTA from 128 individual and family donations ranging from $20 to $37,000 that came in from all over the state and CA, AR, MO, TX, FL, WA, NC.
Donors included: $1000 each - First National Bank, Jimmie and Terry Goodman, coach Kennedy, Mark and Joanne Milligan, Glen Bawcum, Tim Richie, First Family Federal Credit Union, Jimmy and Carla Thompson, and Stan Swyden. $1500 – Don and DeRhonda Andrews, $2000 – Dr. David and Kathy Warden, $2500 – Paul and Jill Neal, Joe and Ginger Shockley, $3000 – Lynn Prullage, Mr. Frank Ward (also donated all new nets), $5000 – OTE&R Foundation Steve Henry, $9435 – AEB ($5000 plus $4435 sign structure), $10,000 Kim Creech Champagne, and $25,000+ Phil Carter, Connie and James McCullough, Johnson family, Linda Smith, and Mike and Frankie Crawford.
The Henryetta economic development authority added 19% of the project with $49,926.
“The HEDA donation came at an important time and helped close the deal on this project,” said Johnson. “The HTA would like to say thanks again to Keith Estes, Steve Pearson, Ron McAfee, Mike Meeks, Gary Clason, and Henry Koelzer the HEDA board members who voted last year to support this project.”
Creech Family Bench was put in place for Kim Creech Champagne who donated $10,000. She is a 1976 HHS graduate who played tennis often on the courts and participated in the summer tennis program. Kim introduced tennis to her family and Kim’s son Brandon became an outstanding tennis player who played for OSU.
A $10,000 donation was made by a family who requested a bench be placed on the courts to honor Coach Kennedy. Coach Kennedy ran the summer tennis program for over 20 years. He coached three state championship teams and numerous individual state champions.
“No one worked harder on this project and Mr. Kennedy. During the past three years, I know I have talked to him about the project on an average of 3 to 4 times a day, every day. This has resulted in my wife Michelle naming my phone Mr. Kennedy he laughed. He has been involved with every part of this project from day one,” said Johnson.
The Henryetta Tennis Association recognized five donors who gave $25,000 or more.
The backboard and a court bench was named after the McCullough family. They were specially recognized for their upkeep of the park throughout the years.
“Connie and James pledged $25,000 at one of the earliest meetings and also donated the adjoining property to the city that provides room for the complex to expand. This couple has been strong supporters of Henryetta tennis for over 25 years. Their daughters were outstanding players in high school. They have been on the project committee from day one and are passionate supporters of Henryetta tennis. The McCullough family backboard in the McCollum family bench are now a part of this new facility,” said Johnson.
Johnson recognized Linda Smith, Dr. Carlton E. Smith’s daughter and Shelly Yoder his granddaughter, “It is so special having them here today and we all know that without Dr. Smith, none of us would be here today. We presented some information about this project a few years ago at a tennis reunion. Right after the presentation, Linda told me she wanted to be a major donor. About six months later, we had a meeting and talked about the summer tennis program Dr. Smith started, and how Henryetta kids had received free tennis lessons at the site for over 50 years. Linda said she wanted this tradition to continue, and she wrote a check for $25,000 that day. The Smith family name is going up on the second Court, it was Dr. Smith’s favorite court.”
“I know my dad would be so proud, and I am so thankful to everyone who donated and made this project possible,” said Smith.
Phil Carter was one of the first to step up and support of the project pledging to donate $25,000. “Without some early commitments from donors like Phil this project would not have been possible. The Carter Family Court will honor Phil’s parents and family and will be a permanent fixture here on Main Street,” said Johnson.
Phil said he would never forget Dr. Smith and how he was introduced to tennis among so many other children, “It is an honor to be a part of this project.”
Johnson recognized his own family, ”It has been a true honor for our family to contribute to this project. I’ve told many people that I think our family benefited from this facility more than anyone. We all learned to play in the summer tennis program, and we had different family members compete on the three state championship teams. We basically lived at these courts when we were kids. Paul, Ann, Stephen, and I are so thankful for the opportunities we were provided by our parents, Dr. Smith, Coach Kennedy, Phil Carter, and these very special four courts. We have enjoyed partnering with so many friends to get this project built and we are excited to honor our parents, Mr. Eugene and Adeline Johnson, with their names on the Johnson Family Court.”
The Crawford family was recognized next. Johnson explained after being asked to send an email with more details about the project to Mike and Frankie Crawford, he said he received a message back shortly that said, “Frank and I would like to pledge $25,000 to this project. The main street courts and Henryetta tennis in general have been a big part of our lives, and now that the Crawford family no longer have anyone living in Henryetta, this would be a nice tribute that they can pay to our family and our hometown.”
He went on to say, “Mike’s message puts into words what this project is all about, and I know Mike and Frank you’re excited to honor your parents, Mr. Frank in Virginia Crawford, with the Crawford Family Court.”
Mike came to the podium, “We would like to thank Dr. Smith and his family. Not only did Dr. Smith bring all the Crawford kids into this world, but he brought us onto the courts. This was a second home to us. We spent so many hours here. As a matter fact, the old concrete back board was my first girlfriend. I hit on her more then I hit on any girl in Henryetta,” he laughed. “I could not count the number of tennis balls I hit off that wall. So it seems quite appropriate to get court four as our family court as we spent so much time there.”
Johnson finalized, “When our committee first got together to organize this project, we all agreed that when it was completed, we needed to have the facility at 12th and Main officially named after Dr. Carlton E. Smith. He did so much for tennis in Henryetta, and more specifically, he did so much for the kids of Henryetta. Dr. Smith started the summer tennis program, recruited and paid for excellent instructors, he paid for travel expenses to help kids play tournaments, he purchase shoes, rackets, and balls for kids who needed the help. Dr. Smith gave back to the Henryetta community in a big way. It is his example that we are trying to follow, by supporting his summer tennis program, and with the building of this new facility. Thank you Dr. Smith.”
Henryetta Mayor Jennifer Clason brought a special proclamation officially dedicating the tennis complex in his honor in which Dr. Smith daughter excepted.
“The tennis courts have always been special. Whenever you drive down Main Street, there’s always someone playing on the tennis courts. To have this is amazing. We never would’ve guessed it would turn out like this. The beautification of this project will last for many years to come for Henryetta. The quality of life improvement that it has given to Henryetta children and so many others is amazing. The City of Henryetta cannot thank you enough.”
“I am very touched and dad would be so proud,” said Linda Smith.
The Henryetta Chamber of Commerce ended the presentation with a special ribbon cutting. (See related Story)
There are two more phases to the project in which phase 2 is now beginning that will add a brand-new pavilion and some restrooms not to be used just for tennis but for the community. In phase 3 there may be additional parking and more additions.