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The Leaside Tennis Club started with gopher holes

Pat Cole

PAT COLE with a photo of her father, Matt Sayliss, who started the Leaside Tennis Club

When the Leaside Tennis Club started 65 years ago it had a couple of players bouncing balls off gopher holes inside lines painted on earth that sometimes became mud.

Today it has 1,058 registered members (some who have been around for 50 years) playing on six Deco Turf floodlight courts, and a membership waiting list surpassing 650 people.

The difference can largely be attributed to the efforts of one man: Matt Sayliss, a Leasider who had the determination and wits to charm the town into constructing the Leaside Tennis Club and then seeing that it became an essential part of the community.

Born in Sheffield, England, Sayliss moved from Montreal to South Leaside during WW II and worked as a commercial artist. When he arrived here he obviously noticed the lack of his hobby—tennis.

In 1944 he began to teach the game to a group of local youngsters. They would play on Millwood Park (now Trace Manes), which was not only coated with weeds and rocks, but also torn up from the night gatherings of dogs and cyclists.

Once the club started to grow, lights that were used in the winter to illuminate the hockey rinks were transferred to the dirt courts for night games and a tattered snow-fence was put up to stop stray balls from ending up a couple blocks away.

With help from neighbours Norm Lamport, Al Ogg, and Norm Ramsey, Sayliss founded the Leaside Tennis Club in 1948 and acted as its first president. Rules and regulations were established and tennis officially started here.

The newly formed club, however, still faced the reality that there were only two courts sketched into the earth. So, with charm that swayed many and persistence that impressed the rest, Sayliss met the mayor, councils, and every department of municipal government that could help.

The town agreed to build, at a cost of $10,000 (approximately $94,000 today), four double tennis courts of championship length. The devoted tennis members would repay, over a period of time, the entire cost.

Before long, by-laws were written, a constitution drawn up, and directors of the club named. Membership soon soared when the new courts were constructed.

But just as the club started to become a prominent destination in Leaside, Sayliss was struck with a heart attack.

The man who became to mean so much to tennis in Leaside passed away in the fall of 1952 in the prime of his years. In his name, a trophy used to be awarded annually for the “most promising” junior player, in keeping with the club’s ideals to “foster and promote the game of tennis in the community”.