- Shannon Cornman
- .Photo/Shannon Cornman
You never know what might change your life. For Craig Starke, it was watching a tennis match on television.
Starke was 15, watching from his home in Oklahoma City as American Jimmy Connors defeated Swedens Björn Borg during the 1976 U.S. Open mens singles final.
Id never touched a racquet or been on a court before, Starke said recently. There was just an instant connection.
From that day, Starke knew he wanted to spend his life playing tennis. That dream has manifested itself through Starkes Discover Tennis program, which introduces the game to children and adults, and the Tennis Barn, a new indoor tennis facility.
During the late 1970s, the tennis boom swept the nation and the game transcended socioeconomic boundaries. The white shirts at the country club and the T-shirts at the local park were all playing. Starke couldnt afford a club membership, so he rode his bicycle to the old Courts Racquet Club (now the Santa Fe Family Life Center) looking to work in exchange for free court time and lessons.
I would mow pros lawns, wash their cars, anything I could to get 30 minutes of time with them, he said.
Starke played competitively through high school and continued to work at tennis clubs through college. By the early 1990s, the sports popularity had fallen dramatically. In 1991, Starke founded Discover Tennis on the courts at Casady School, teaching private school children and neighborhood children from The Village. Inspired by famous tennis pro
Vic Braden, Starke started a scholarship program for those who couldnt afford to play.
The tennis bust reached its bottom in 1994, when Sports Illustrated ran a cover story titled Is Tennis Dying? Starke took that moment to grow his program and introduce tennis to as many people as possible. By 2011, Discover Tennis had more than 500 participants each summer. Nationally, tennis participation numbers grew from 21.3 million in 1995 to 30.1 million in 2009, according to the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association.
Its definitely on the upswing, Starke said.
Now, the Discover Tennis program has moved to Putnam City High School. The fall season has begun, and programs are available for children ages 6-18. Adult programs are also available.
In March, Starke opened the Tennis Barn, located at 6901 NW 63rd St. The indoor facility features two courts, brand-new state-of-the-art lighting, all new SportMaster surfacing and full-service racket maintenance. The Tennis Barn is the only pay-as-you- play, no-membership indoor facility in Oklahoma City, Starke said.
As fall turns into winter, the Discover Tennis program will move into the Tennis Barn.
For more information, visit tennisbarnokc.com or discovertennisokc. com or call 642-9838.
Upswing: Local tennis pro Craig Starke passes on his love for the game through his Discover Tennis program and a new venture.