Compass: Don't let politics block affordable indoor tennis

Public indoor tennis courts will make Anchorage a better place to live. Tennis is a lifetime sport that greatly benefits those who take it up. It provides healthy physical exercise and builds character. Tennis is the only sport where the competitors call their own lines. The rules of tennis require you to give your opponent the benefit of the doubt and to overrule your opponent if she makes a bad call in your favor. At the Park Strip tennis courts, you will regularly see 80-year-old players playing next to 6-year-olds. How many 80-year-olds do you see playing football, hockey or soccer? I have gotten beaten soundly by both 70-year-olds and 14-year-olds.

Tennis is easy to start playing. All you need is a racket, a few tennis balls, some tennis shoes and one other person. You can play organized tournaments or leagues or recreationally with friends. Of course, you also need a tennis court. That's our problem in Anchorage. With our long winter and rainy summers and fall, there are very few days tennis can be played outdoors. Unfortunately, there are no affordable indoor tennis courts. Currently, the only option to play tennis indoors is at a private athletic club. The Alaska Club, which is owned by a New York equity firm, Lincolnshire Management, owns all the indoor courts in Anchorage. A family membership currently costs $2,016 a year.

Our great city has public and/or nonprofit options for hockey, skiing, soccer, basketball, baseball and football. Why not tennis? Tennis is not an elite sport. My family and I immigrated to Anchorage from Vietnam. We first lived on the east side of town in public assistance housing until I was 11. Eventually my parents saved enough money to buy a zero-lot-line house on the west side of town. I didn't have many opportunities growing up.

I played tennis for the first time when I was 14. One day, a friend and I decided to pick up some old tennis rackets and tennis balls and biked to the nearest tennis courts. I've been hooked on tennis since. I decided to go out for tennis at West High and played all four years. Unfortunately, when the high school tennis season would end in October, I put down my racket until June. My family could not afford a membership to play tennis at the Alaska Club. Having a public tennis facility would have been great for someone like me. I could have saved money I earned from baby-sitting and delivering the newspaper to go play tennis.

The proposed public tennis facility will operate on a pay-for-play model. A group of four friends could play doubles for an hour for $5-$8. The Alaska Tennis Association, which currently has no access to indoor courts, will run low-cost clinics and lessons for Anchorage's children. I could have taken advantage of this when I was a child. Instead, I was left out in the cold, while kids from affluent families played year round.

Public tennis facilities have been very successful in the Seattle and Portland areas, where it does not even snow. A public tennis facility will be wildly successful in Anchorage.

Let's give the children and adults in this community the opportunity to participate in a sport of a lifetime. Children in our community need more affordable healthy activities, especially to fight our obesity problem. Studies have shown that youth tennis players get better grades in school, go to college, make better health choices and are healthier than even those who participate in other sports. Don't we want this for the youths in our community?

The Alaska Tennis Association has successfully lobbied the Legislature for funding for this project because of the benefits tennis can give children. I urge the Assembly to support the indoor public tennis facility. Do not punish the people of Anchorage, especially the children, over politics. Instead, let's build the public indoor tennis courts and make tennis affordable and accessible to all of Anchorage.

Zareena Clendaniel is a tennis player, former high school coach, PNW/USTA adult competition representative for Alaska, and Alaska state high school tennis tournament director.