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A tale of two (or three) tennis clubs

When I was growing up after World War II in Virginiatown, a gold-mine company town in Northern Ontario, the mine directors saw fit to put in two sets of tennis courts, one for their use when they came to town, and a further two courts for the use of employees and their families.

But for whatever reason, very few employees used the courts.

I used to put my small dog in the basket of my bicycle and ride over to the courts. Often, with no one to play with, I used the backboard and Kim, my dog, had the joy, for him, of chasing and recovering the balls I shot over the fence into the bush.

At around the same time, in Leaside, Matt Sayliss and his friends were craving tennis courts. They took matters into their own hands and built them. These courts have been popular ever since. Even in the 1970s, there was a waiting list. I know, because I was on it. I got to play if a friend took pity and invited me as a guest. I remember one particular afternoon, playing with Jo Croft, a skilled player, who promised me that she’d hit the ball to me, and I could return it as best I could, and she would do the running.

Today, if you decide you’d like to join as an adult player, you’d be #738 on the waiting list, with the expectation that you might be asked to join in about six years. Players between the ages of 5 and 18 fare better – their list has only 40 names today, and they’ll probably get to be members next year.

Meanwhile, in Thorncliffe, on Leaside Park Dr., only a five-minute drive, or 15-minute walk from Leaside, there is also a tennis club. There are many similarities to Leaside:  they both have six courts, tennis pros, a wide variety of programs, social events and levels of play. The difference is that if you decide to play in Thorncliffe, you just need to show up and pay your money to join.

And there’s obviously synchronicity between the two clubs: the president at Leaside, Rita Lee, is the membership director at Thorncliffe,   the new membership director at Leaside, Andre Velloso,  is also on the Thorncliffe board, and the Thorncliffe board chair, Christine Barachina, lives in Leaside.

While the main focus at both clubs is the personal enjoyment in playing tennis, they both have an acknowledgement that not everyone in our large city can afford to play.

At Leaside, their support goes to the Philpott Children’s Charity, where money raised at a silent auction that coincides with Wimbleton on July 5, goes to children ages 5 to 15 in high priority needs neighbourhoods across Toronto so they can attend summer tennis camps.

At Thorncliffe, they’re working more directly with youngsters in Thorncliffe to subsidize summer lessons by coordinating with the Canadian Tire Jump Starts and Alliance for Social Equity.