A select group of Clevelanders has already fallen in “love” with the sport of platform tennis (aka paddle)—and now, thanks to a new public facility in the Flats, the rest of Cleveland is set to embrace it, too.
“Right now in Cleveland, paddle is only played in private clubs, and there are no paddle courts at all west of Shaker Square,” shares Hank Stewart, a Cleveland Platform Tennis Foundation board member. “It’s a bit exclusive, and might even be conceived as elitist. We want to bring this game to a whole new audience and remove geographical and financial barriers that are keeping people out."
The Cleveland Platform Tennis Foundation (CPTF) plans to accomplish that goal with the addition of The Flats Platform Tennis Center, a 10,000-square-foot facility encompassing four courts and a warming/gathering hut (as the sport is played year-round).
Set to be substantially completed by end of third quarter 2020, the facility will be located on the property of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation, with whom CPTF has signed a 30-year lease.
“As the Flats continue to grow and rejuvenate, there is a grand vision for what will be a big recreational area to combine many niche-y types of activities, such as rowing, skateboarding, and paddle,” says Sean Richardson, CPTF board chair. “We hope there will be a great crossover between rowers in summer who want to join us for paddle during the winter.”
Indeed, platform tennis is known for winter play, as the sport takes place on a raised platform with a heating element underneath to keep the playing surface warm. (Stewart says he has played in temperatures as cold as eight degrees below zero.) The court is about one-third of the size of a regulation tennis court, and players typically play in doubles.
Stewart calls the sport a hybrid of racquetball and tennis, as the ball can be played off the surrounding fence. “If someone powers the ball past you, you just stand there and wait, and once it comes off the screen, you can hit it right back,” he says. “This sport isn't about power and physicality, so it’s very appealing to people of all ages, sizes, and strengths.”
Along with opening up platform tennis to a new audience, the new facility will also serve underprivileged youth—offering help with homework, life skills mentoring, and instruction on platform tennis. A plan is also in place to start a scholarship program soon after launch. “We’re taking a page out of the playbook of [other local organizations such as] Urban Squash and First Tee, and we’re really excited about it,” says Richardson. “Students will be transported to our facility for the afternoon to receive one hour of instruction off the court, and one hour of instruction on the court.”
As the facility rounds the bend toward completion, CPTF continues edging toward its fundraising goal of $600,000—thanks to individual donors, sponsors such as Huntington Bank, and a significant grant from the American Platform Tennis Association. Once open, the facility will offer various types of memberships, as well as league play, free clinics, court rentals, and more.
“We hope to be a gateway for people wanting to check out platform tennis," says Richardson. "I’ve been playing for 15 years here in Cleveland, and there is nothing else I would rather do.”