This time of year, there are typically 15-20 tennis players on the six courts at Oak Harbor High School every weekend for the Oak Harbor Racket Club’s “Sunday Social Tennis.” The club welcomes players of all ages and skill levels–from high schoolers who are getting ready for the upcoming season to retirees in their 80s.
“The goal is to get as many people to play as possible,” said Chuck Niedzialkowski, a retired mental health professional who worked at the Naval Air Station.
He has lived on Whidbey Island since 1991 and has been playing tennis with the club for just as long. He said that Sundays are typically informal, with people breaking off to play doubles.
“That’s where you kind of meet people, exchange phone numbers and are able to arrange matches during the week,” said Kathy Slocum, who calls herself the de facto president of the club.
She is retired from the Navy and has lived on Whidbey Island since 2010. In the past the club has also had an open tennis night on Wednesdays during the summer months, if interest is high enough.
The Racket Club played all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and even grew in membership, as tennis is safe for social distancing. The members simply dropped the handshake at the end of games and replaced it with clicking their rackets together.
Tennis grew in popularity across the country during the pandemic; the United States Tennis Association reported a 22% increase in tennis playing in the year 2020.
May is National Tennis Month and the Oak Harbor Racket Club wants participation to keep growing. Sundays are open to everyone who can “keep the ball going,” Niedzialkowski said, but if anyone is having trouble, they’re happy to offer some extra assistance.
“If we see somebody who’s there who says, ‘Well, you know, I’d really like to play but I’m really rusty,’ we’ll break off and send somebody off with them to work on their strokes,” he said.
The club considers tennis a sport that can be played all throughout a person’s lifetime. They offer tennis instruction for adults and children, and both the former and current Oak Harbor High School tennis coaches are involved in the club.
This past Sunday, the weather was warm and sunny and there was a great turnout—about 20 players. The youngest player was 16 years old, the oldest was 84.
From the Oak Harbor Racket Club: “If you are interested in playing tennis with our group and can keep the ball going with some assurance, come join us any Sunday from noon to about 3 p.m. on the Oak Harbor High School tennis courts. Tennis is like riding a bike, if you were ever able to play, it will come back to you once you get out there and start hitting the ball again! We play mostly Doubles at ‘Sunday Social Tennis’ and play year round. As long as it’s not raining there will be people on the court, come join us or call Chuck at 360-675-3816 or Kathy at 360-929-3736 for more information about our club. No dues, no drama, just tennis and fair play.”