It all started during the spring of 2009, when two best friends, John Panas & David Rossolatos, decided to dust off their tennis rackets and get playing at Borden Park between their spring university courses at Concordia. Soon enough tennis fever hit them and so they found themselves getting up early every day before class to get their 4 hours of tennis; this also happened after class, whereupon John and David’s classmates started getting curious and followed them to the courts whereupon they joined the game. Those friends told their friends and soon enough John and David found themselves teaching people how to play the game and passing on their passion about the game. As a result of this tennis frenzy David created a Facebook group named ‘Borden U30 Tennis Club’ that provided members with information about upcoming ‘Winner-Ups’, events where everyone dropped-in and played each other. By the end of the season the group had 29 active members.
After the end of the 2009 outdoor season John and David chatted about how they would handle the increasing interest in the game; there was a clear need for an official tennis association that provided the structure for campus and community residents to try tennis and develop their skills. As a result David enrolled immediately in the tennis instructor course in November that year in order to become a nationally certified tennis professional. The certification would provide him with the skills to provide the future tennis association with quality instruction.
During Christmas break David read through the Highlands Highlights newsletter and came upon an article by the Highlands Community League (HCL) president at the time, who was asking Highlands residents to email him their ideas about what should be included in the renovated Highlands Community Hall. As a resident David immediately took this opportunity and wrote a lengthy email that outlined his vision of resurfacing the Highlands courts, that he had sadly seen deteriorate year after year, and suggested enclosing them to provide year round programming. In addition to his vision about the facility he volunteered his skills as a tennis professional to run tennis programs in this new structure. After sending the email and not hearing back David impatiently contacted the programs director at that time, Andrew Anderson, who excitedly listened to David’s vision of a community tennis program. Andrew happily invited John & David to the HCL board meeting where they presented their vision under the project name of ‘Borden Tennis Community Club’.
Within the next two months the HCL adopted John & David’s project and that’s how the Highlands Community Tennis Association (HCTA) came about as a Highlands Community League program, in April 2010. Highlands with the design expertise of Yvette Cioran, HCL secretary at that time, presented this program in the HCL Open House where many residents expressed interest in the program. However, when the snow melted and everyone was geared to get out and play tennis the HCTA came upon a sad realization. The Highlands tennis courts were in ruins. Nobody up to that moment had assessed the courts’ usability and conditions and it was too late to fix them. With the Highlands courts being too dangerous to play on HCTA turned back to Borden Park. Even though the courts were owned by the City of Edmonton and there was no place to store the equipment David was determined to teach tennis, even if that meant carrying all the nets and rackets from Highlands to Borden back and forth on foot. Thanks to the generous parents he didn’t have to do it too many times.
The HCTA was a success with 40 memberships sold on the very first days of the program and filling up the first two months of classes. HCTA was so successful that the Borden Park maintenance crew worked to provide a storage space for the lesson equipment on site. Additionally as the demand for lessons increased HCTA hired their first instructor, 17-year-old Anastasia Gasheva, for her amazing talent in teaching tennis to juniors. Furthermore, the provincial tennis association, Tennis Alberta noticed the potential HCTA had and invited John & David to join the national strategy called Building Tennis Communities (BTC). This initiative, led by Tennis Canada, aims to grow tennis at the grassroots by supporting groups like HCTA and helping them offer a wider array of programs to their community and schools.
As the 2010 outdoor season came to an end the money raised from memberships and lessons paid for HCTA’s own progressive equipment; up to that point HCTA had been using borrowed equipment from Tennis Alberta. In addition to the equipment HCTA purchased a ball machine that John along with another good friend and fellow tennis instructor, Aldo Narvaez-Mendez, drove down to Houston, Texas, to bring back to Edmonton and avoid ridiculous shipping fees and duty taxes.
The end of HCTA’s first season was capped off with a provincial tennis tournament held at Borden Park in late September. Many people were surprised at how a small group like HCTA would handle such an event. Luckily the weather was on our side and HCTA ran a successful first tournament bringing 40 people from around Edmonton and Calgary to enjoy a warm weekend of competition.
John & David decided that they would take on Tennis Alberta’s invitation and so they filled the application for HCTA to join the BTC. HCTA was admitted to the BTC at the spot and so John & David were flown into Vancouver in mid-October for their orientation as Community Champions, volunteers that would commit the 3 years required by Tennis Canada to implement and lead the BTC strategy in the Highlands community. The two Champions were happy to return home after spending the weekend learning about the strategy along with their first funding, a cheque for $2,400, and even more junior equipment. After that they began their planning for the 2011 summer season.
More recently the Highlands Community Tennis Association was given non-profit society status as it was incorporated under the Societies Act. As a result, due to this further growth in our operations, the HCTA has moved away from being a program under the HCL and has become a partner of the HCL still holding the same goals and commitment it started with which are to further participation in tennis and offer the best quality tennis experience in Highlands and surrounding communities. The HCTA was also selected to serve as a Summer Progressive Tennis Centre by Tennis Alberta due to our wide range of programs for children aged 3-17 years. This brought the HCTA even more equipment for the kids.
The Highlands community is rich with history and stories. We hope you enjoyed our little story about how passion for the sport of tennis brought out the community to join in on the fun, the fitness, and meeting their neighbors. Join us and help us make history in one of Edmonton’s oldest communities.
See you on court,
The HCTA Team